At least 40,000 displaced in latest fighting

At least 40,000 people have been displaced in Liberia by the latest fighting between government troops and rebels in central Bong County, humanitarian workers in the capital, Monrovia, told IRIN on Friday.

More displacement was expected as the fighting intensified around the town of Gbarnga, 160 km north of Monrovia, the workers added. The majority of the displaced were moving south to Margibi County, while a few were moving into Nimba County.

The fighting had by Friday reportedly spread to several areas on the outskirts of Gbarnga. A government military camp housing the engineering and artillery base was overrun by the rebels, news agencies reported.

At least 900 students and teachers from the Cuttington University College, the second largest University in Liberia, were evacuated by a police convoy to Monrovia on Tuesday, the workers said. Fleeing residents, they said, spoke of heavy gun fire coming from the town.

President Charles Taylor spoke on Radio Liberia International on Thursday, saying fighting with rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) was continuing fiercely. "All those who have been telling the world there is no war in Liberia- we hope they will now see that this democratically-elected government is under attack, and that powerful nations of the world continue to deny Liberia the right under Article 51 of the UN charter to defend herself."

Taylor called on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to lobby the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) and the UN against the Security Council embargo, the pro-Taylor radio station reported.

He said that Liberia should be allowed to order "materials for legitimate self-defence" despite United Nations sanctions because "genocide" was taking place in the country. The Mano River states of Guinea and Sierra Leone, he added, should also ensure that cross-border incursions against his country were prevented.

The Council renewed sanctions against Liberia on Monday, following a report of a panel of experts that probed compliance with Resolution 1343 of March 2001, under which the sanctions were imposed on Monrovia for its links with RUF in neighbouring Sierra Leone. The panel recommended the maintenance of an arms embargo, saying there was credible evidence that the government was buying weapons in violation of the restrictions.

Gbarnga once served as a headquarters of President Charles Taylor’s forces when he led the war of rebellion in 1989-1996. LURD spokesman William Hanson was quoted by the BBC on Wednesday as saying they had captured a number of strategically-important towns in the area.