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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Liberian Rebels Advance Through Monrovia With Little Resistance

Aired July 20, 2003 - 11:07   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we're going to move on to Africa, where there is chaos in the streets of the Liberian capital of Monrovia. Rebels are advancing through the city, meeting little resistance from government troops. The rebels are trying to oust president Charles Taylor. CNN's Jeff Koinange has the latest from Liberia. Jeff?
JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello there, Sean. We can tell you, the battle lines in this raging civil war are changing, literally, by the hour. We're hearing unconfirmed reports that government forces have now pushed the rebel forces further beyond the key strategic Gabriel Tucker Bridge, which is about a mile from where I'm standing right now. Again, unconfirmed reports government forces have pushed the rebels further back out there.

We can tell you we are still very much inside the compound of the U.S. Embassy, the heavily fortified compound. And even as early as this morning, the embassy compound was taking in stray bullets, whizzing past and landing in trees like the ones behind me. In fact, an embassy staffer, local Liberian working for the U.S. Embassy, a guard at the gate, he sustained injuries from gunfire. Mortar shells were landing barely 20 meters from the embassy gate. So it was very intense fighting up until a few hours ago, Sean.

We can tell you it's been raining for about the last half-hour or so. The fighting, we're hearing from other reports, it is abated for awhile. So it is very fluid right now.

We're also hearing from neighboring Ghana that the main rebel force, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, say this is not a military takeover of Liberia. What we want to do is apply pressure to embattle President Taylor, for him to do whatever he can to vacate the presidency.

Of course, this is not good news for any would-be peacekeepers. As you well know, everyone here is waiting for peacekeepers to arrive. But if the fighting intensifies, if it gets worse, then peacekeepers wouldn't want to be on the ground, because they are not peace enforcers. They are peacekeepers. It's going to be difficult to convince them to come to the ground and maintain the peace right here, Sean.

CALLEBS: Well, Jeff, the rebels say it is not a coup, but is there any indication that their action is going to do anything that might make President Taylor move up his timetable and leave the country peacefully?

KOINANGE: Well, Sean, as late as last night President Taylor was saying that he vows to fight to the very last man. In his own words, he wants to chase the hooligans outside the city. He has urged, he has told his military they must go street to street, house to house, to do what they can to drive the rebels out.

So, no, he is not intensifying his ability to leave. He wants to stay until peacekeepers come, which is what he insists. Of course, the U.S. insisting President Taylor must leave the presidency before peacekeepers come. Again, now the rebels, we're hearing reports government forces are doing what they can to push the rebels as far back, but again, it's unconfirmed. The fighting is literally a mile from where I'm standing right now, Sean.

CALLEBS: OK, Jeff. Keep your vest on, and be safe. Jeff Koinange in Liberia. Jeff, thanks very much.

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