The Bush Administration on Saturday urged Liberia's besieged President Samuel K. Doe to relinquish power to an interim government that could schedule early elections and end a bloody civil war.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler encouraged Doe's government and the rebel forces led by Charles Taylor to cooperate with mediation efforts by the Economic Community of West African States.
Doe, a former master sergeant who has ruled the impoverished West African nation since he took power in a 1980 coup, has steadfastly refused to turn over power despite a series of defeats that his troops have suffered at the hands of the rebels.
"The U.S. government supports the Economic Community of West African States' mediation proposal, which calls for the establishment of an interim government which would rule Liberia until early elections could be held under international monitoring," Tutwiler said.
"We strongly urge the use of established Liberian constitutional processes during the transition period," she added.
Liberia, founded by freed American slaves, has always been dependent upon U.S. economic support. Despite repeated charges of human rights violations by the Doe regime, Liberia is one of the largest recipients of American economic aid in sub-Saharan Africa.
Tutwiler's statement included a thinly veiled threat to end U.S. assistance if Doe refuses to cooperate.
"The willingness of the U.S. government to assist a future Liberian government must, of course, be related to that government's representative character and its respect for human rights," she said.
"We thus call on the parties in this conflict to cooperate with the Economic Community of West African States in its mediation effort and to take steps to avoid further bloodshed."
According to a report from Monrovia by Reuters, the British news service, Taylor's rebel troops were ringing the capital Saturday.
Residents reported shooting originating from at least five points in an arc around Monrovia, an Atlantic coastal city of 500,000. The city's only hydroelectric and water treatment plant was reported to have been put out of service.
Taylor, a former Doe aide who fled Liberia in 1983 after being accused of fraud, says that his National Patriotic Front controls 14,000 armed men and two-thirds of the country. Western diplomats have estimated the number of guerrillas at 5,000.
Taylor has vowed to capture Monrovia and kill Doe unless the president resigns.
Taylor, as a descendant of freed American slaves, is part of the American-Liberian elite that ruled the country before Doe's coup a decade ago. However, most of Taylor's troops are members of the Gio and Mano tribes. The civil war has taken on the attributes of a tribal war against Doe's minority Krahn tribe.