Shelling and gunfire raged in the capital Monday, sending at least 15,000 civilians fleeing to a U.S. Embassy compound. The Clinton administration is considering evacuating Americans from Liberia as early as today.
The fighting between government troops and warring rebel factions that broke out Saturday in Monrovia is the worst in three years.
“We hear rocket-propelled-grenade fire, mortar fire, heavy-arms fire,” Dudley Sims, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, said by telephone. “It’s pretty bad.”
The conflict between seven rebel factions fighting mainly along ethnic lines has killed more than 150,000 people and left at least half the country’s 2.3 million residents homeless in the six-year civil war.
A peace accord was supposed to clear the way for elections this year but renewed unrest in the country, founded in 1847 by freed American slaves, has caused the collapse of civil order.
U.S. officials in Washington said the latest fighting was taking place around the Barclay Training Center, an army barracks in downtown Monrovia where about 30 African peacekeepers were being held hostage. Three of their armored personnel carriers were reported captured by rebels.
About 12,000 African peacekeepers, most of them Nigerian, have been unable to stem Liberia’s fighting.
Paul Koulen, deputy representative of the U.N. Development Program in Monrovia, said the country’s only international airport was ruined. He said three U.S.-donated helicopters and a passenger airplane of Weasua Airlines, which flies in West Africa, had been destroyed.
“The airport has been destroyed, if you can really say that an airport already destroyed could be even more destroyed,” he said, referring to the severe damage already inflicted on the airport throughout the civil war.
Koulen, speaking from his office in the seaside diplomatic district of Mamba Point, said people were fleeing in all directions.
“We’ve seen these people with all their belongings on their heads - beds, sheets, everything - running up and down Mamba Point, depending on where the gunfire is coming from,” he said.