President Samuel Doe was killed by rebels and his bullet-scarred body has been put on display at their camp outside Monrovia, news and government reports said today.
Travelers returning to Monrovia told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Doe died in a rebel camp where he was taken Sunday after he was wounded and captured by rebel forces in a fierce gun battle in the capital of his war-torn West African nation.
U.S. State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. officials regard the reports as reliable and consider them confirmation of Doe's death.
Meanwhile, Liberia's main rebel fighters demanded today that West African troops withdraw from Monrovia and said they will keep fighting despite Doe's death at the hands of Prince Yormie Johnson's rival rebel faction.
Tom Woewiyu, chief spokesman of Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front, dashed hopes for an early end to the tribal conflict in which three warring parties have killed more than 5,000 civilians.
Doe was interrogated by Prince Johnson over large amounts of money he allegedly embezzled during his time in power, then killed, the BBC quoted the travelers as saying. The president's body, badly mutilated, was reportedly on display at the camp.
State Department spokesman Mark Dillen said the department has reports from several sources, including representatives of forces led by Prince Johnson, that Doe "died from the gunshot wounds he suffered in the shoot-out with Prince Johnson."
Dillen said he had no further information.
Johnson had telephoned the BBC to say he had captured Doe in a battle Sunday as Liberia's leader of 10 years was trying to flee the country, possibly on a ship of a West African task force sent to end the 8 1/2-month-old war.
Woewiyu's announcement that Taylor's rebels will keep fighting came in a telephone interview from Burkina Faso, one of eight West African nations he has visited in an effort to get the West African force to withdraw from Monrovia.
"Their mission has failed, and a prime example is the capture of Doe by the Prince Johnson group right in their headquarters," Woewiyu said.
Prince Johnson, whose men felled Doe in a battle at the headquarters of the West African task force in Monrovia port, declared that he will run Liberia until elections are held.
Johnson controls Monrovia, but Taylor's 10,000-strong army has overrun much of the rest of Liberia.
Gambian President Dawda Jawara said today that Doe's ouster may help the peace process in Liberia. "All the factions that were involved in the fighting, including other interest groups, were insisting that Doe must go," he said.
He said the West African community will try to consult both rebel leaders about an interim government. He made no reference to Johnson's having declared himself president.