- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — President Charles Taylor’s forces began what they called a major counterattack yesterday on the key port of Buchanan, battling to take back Liberia’s second-largest city a day after it fell to insurgents.

After Monday’s capture of the Atlantic coastal city, Mr. Taylor is reconsidering his pledge to cede power, seeing it as only encouraging rebel attacks, spokesman Vaanii Paasawe said.

“We are of a different opinion now in the government about the validity of the overtures of the president to step down,” the spokesman said yesterday in Monrovia, 60 miles northwest of Buchanan. “So if you start hearing us say differently, you shouldn’t be surprised.”

Meanwhile, in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, expressing anxiety at the carnage in Liberia, asked the Security Council yesterday to approve the immediate deployment of Nigerian soldiers, using transport and other support from the United Nations mission in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Annan, in a letter to the 15-member council, said he needed a mandate to speed up the transfer of one or perhaps two battalions from Sierra Leone to Liberia.

“I am deeply concerned at the dramatic deterioration of the situation on the ground, following renewed fighting in Monrovia on July 18,” Mr. Annan wrote. “It is therefore absolutely essential to accelerate the deployment … ”

Mr. Taylor has hedged or reneged outright on the promise since, but most recently said he would step down when long-promised multinational peace forces arrived.

Nigeria, West Africa’s military power, has offered two battalions but says it needs help with what it expects to be a multimillion-dollar daily tab. Asked after meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair in London when peacekeeping troops might go in, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told reporters, “a few days.”

In neighboring Ghana, meanwhile, the country’s main rebel group, which has staged a 10-day siege of Monrovia, declared the latest in days of cease-fire pledges. But it stopped short of U.S. demands that they withdraw and open the city’s port for vital deliveries of food and other aid.

The rebels repeatedly have broken promises for a cease-fire, as have government forces.

“As we’re talking, [as] we’re announcing an unconditional cease-fire, Taylor is shelling our areas,” rebel peace talks envoy George Dewey said in Accra, pressing international mediators to win a cease-fire from Mr. Taylor’s forces as well.

Officials said Mr. Taylor’s forces also were struggling to take back Mr. Taylor’s northern stronghold of Gbarnga, which, like Buchanan, fell to insurgents on Monday.

The fighting for Monrovia between government forces and rebels from the main Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy movement has killed hundreds of civilians and left the city’s populace of more than 1.3 million increasingly hungry and threatened by disease.

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