A rebel gunboat shelled President Samuel K. Doe's executive mansion during assaults Tuesday by guerrillas who have routed troops on all fronts and brought the government to the brink of capitulation after a six-month rebellion.
A rebel assault that took the guerrillas into the Liberian capital Monday apparently was staged by the forces of Prince Johnson, who has led a rebel faction that split from guerrilla commander Charles Taylor. There have been conflicting reports over whether Johnson has reconciled with Taylor since he left Taylor's National Patriotic Front three months ago.
Taylor, a former civil servant who lived in the United States after being accused of corruption by Doe, launched the rebellion six months ago. He orchestrated a full-scale assault on Monrovia last Thursday after laying siege to the capital for more than two weeks.
Residents on Tuesday reported that a rebel vessel shrouded in the early morning darkness steamed toward Doe's seafront mansion and fired at least six rounds at the heavily fortified command post.
They said flashes could be seen from the sea as the ship fired at the five-story building where Doe is holed up with about 500 crack troops from his Krahn tribe after refusing all offers of evacuation.
Artillerymen on the grounds of the mansion returned the fire, and the booming of cannons echoed across the sleeping city.
The ship retreated, and witnesses reported seeing one shell from the mansion fall harmlessly into the ocean only a few hundred yards offshore. Damage at the mansion could not be ascertained.
Residents said Doe's disintegrating army, which has been outflanked and swept back into a small pocket of the city, staged reprisal killings overnight. At least nine male bodies, most stripped of their clothing, were found on a beach not far from the embassy district. Other bodies were scattered nearby, and witnesses told a photographer that soldiers had brought the victims to the site and killed them.
Ethnic conflict underlies the rebellion. Doe's Krahn-dominated army has frequently killed civilians from the majority Gio and Mano tribes, which back Taylor. In turn, the rebels have committed numerous excesses against Krahn people in areas they have occupied, and many observers fear a rebel takeover will involve vast retaliatory bloodletting.
In the remaining government-controlled areas, shops were shuttered and streets filled with hungry civilians vainly searching for food and water, which have become scarce since the guerrillas laid siege to the capital.