- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

MONROVIA, Liberia — Shells exploded in a U.S. diplomatic complex in Liberia’s besieged capital yesterday, causing injuries among thousands of people seeking refuge as civil war engulfed the country, a U.S. official said.

An American Embassy official said authorities had no details on the numbers of casualties, but there were no reports that U.S. citizens were injured. The embassy is across the street from the high-walled residential complex where at least three explosives landed.

Survivors ran past with wounded civilians — wheeling one bleeding young man out in a wheelbarrow and using a ragged shirt as a stretcher for another victim.

The U.S. Embassy and sprawling residential complex are on a rocky hillside overlooking the Atlantic coast. The European Union compound is next door.

Earlier yesterday, U.S. authorities admitted tens of thousands of refugees into the complex as rebels attacked the city with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small arms, among other weapons.

It marked the first time since 1996, during the height of Liberia’s 1989-96 civil war, that authorities opened the compound as a refuge for Monrovia’s people.

Witnesses said four persons were trampled to death in the stampede to get inside the residential complex gates. The blasts then sent terrified throngs fleeing in the other direction.

The U.S. Embassy has remained staffed after a voluntary evacuation by French military helicopter and warship took 530 civilians, mostly foreigners, out of the encircled capital earlier this month.

The fighting shattered a week-old truce and raised prospects of a catastrophic end to Liberia’s three-year insurgency: an all-out battle by undisciplined armies for the city of 1 million.

Just before yesterday’s explosions, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement condemning “rebels’ serious violation of the cease-fire, which has caused unwarranted terror and misery for tens of thousands of innocent Liberians.”

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also condemned the fighting and urged both sides to resume negotiations.

The rebels said President Charles Taylor was to blame because he reneged on an earlier pledge to step down. During peace talks in Ghana this month, his delegates agreed to an accord that called for more talks leading to a transition government without Mr. Taylor. The cease-fire was a preliminary step under the deal.

The main rebel movement, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, suspended participation in the talks Monday over what it said was international mediators’ failure to hold Mr. Taylor to his pledge.

Mr. Taylor’s forces have lost at least 60 percent of the country to two rebel groups, each determined to drive out the president, a U.N.-indicted war-crimes suspect accused of fueling conflicts in West Africa for 14 years.

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