Liberians push towards capital




Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 7 September 1991

Liberian forces pushed up to 25 miles into rebel territory yesterday, having invaded from Sierra Leone earlier in the week, and appeared to be moving swiftly towards the capital Monrovia.

But Charles Taylor, the leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, said yesterday his troops had retaken the Mano River bridge which marks the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia. His troops, seven of whom had died in the fighting, had killed and captured up to 200 Sierra Leonean soldiers inside Liberia and war had effectively been declared between the NPFL and Sierra Leone.

Aid workers trapped behind NPFL lines said the invading army, made up of Liberians determined to prevent Mr Taylor becoming president, had pushed to within a few miles of Tubmanburg, 20 miles north-west of Monrovia.

Senior politicians in the region said the force had the backing of West African countries which last September sent troops to keep the peace in Monrovia.

Mr Taylor alleged that the Sierra Leonean President, Major-General Joseph Momoh, was lying when he said that none of his troops were fighting. The NPFL, which has always denied taking a part in the invasion of Sierra Leone by Liberian rebels in March, had set up a buffer zone inside Sierra Leone, Mr Taylor said.

The Sierra Leonean foreign minister, Abdul Karim Koroma, said: “We have been fighting the NPFL invasion since last March in order to throw them out of Sierra Leone and push them back into Liberia. We have never had the desire to penetrate into Liberia in order to attack Taylor.”

Gen Momoh said in an interview with the BBC yesterday that his troops had been ordered not to enter Liberia. He would not say whether the United States had assisted forces fighting against the NPFL.

Sierra Leonean troops have moved at least as far, however, as the Liberian side of the Mano River bridge.

The bulk of the forces to have moved against Mr Taylor and pursued the NPFL deeper into Liberia are Liberians who had been training since last October for an invasion of Mr Taylor’s territory.

The next meeting of the five West African heads of state involved in electoral plans for Liberia, scheduled for the Ivory Coast on September 16, is likely to be thrown into disarray.


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