Government troops mounted a successful counterattack Sunday, dashing rebel hopes of seizing the capital before a West African task force arrives to impose peace. Troops also fired on civilians, and refugees said that at least 18 were killed.
Bodies of refugees and pieces of clothing from their bundles of belongings were seen scattered in the streets.
Troops from the government's 72nd Battalion advanced behind an armored car Sunday morning from their camp in the Paynesville suburb on Monrovia's eastern outskirts and cut off a group of rebels trying to take Spriggs Payne airfield.
The rebel troops ran away as government troops advanced. The government forces opened fire on fleeing civilians.
Journalists counted the bodies of 15 people, including those of small children, lying in a half-filled culvert where they had tried to seek cover. Three other bodies lay in the road nearby.
Most of the 5,000 people who have died in the civil war to date were civilians slaughtered by both sides because of their tribal affiliations. The war began eight months ago, and today two rival rebel armies are fighting to overthrow the government of President Samuel K. Doe.
In neighboring Sierra Leone, meanwhile, three ships carrying 1,000 Ghanaian soldiers arrived in the capital of Freetown, after the leader of the five-nation West African peacekeeping force launched an urgent appeal for a cease-fire in the conflict.
West African leaders decided at a June 6 meeting in Gambia to send the peacekeeping troops to Liberia. And on Saturday, the commander of the West African force, Lt. Gen. Arnold Quianoo, called for the fighting to end immediately.
"The situation in Liberia creates profound anxiety not only in Africa, but in the entire international community," he said.
Prince Johnson, chief of one of the rebel armies, said Saturday that he was sending a delegation to Freetown to make arrangements for the peacekeeping force to land in Monrovia's port, which he has controlled for the past two weeks.
Quianoo has not announced a date for deployment of the force. Military sources in Freetown said departure of the force has been delayed by the need to carry all its own supplies to Monrovia, which has been without fresh food, running water, electricity and regular telephone communications for more than a month.