More Than 60 African Peacekeepers Killed by Rebels in Liberian Town, Residents Say

From Reuters

More than 60 soldiers of the Liberia peacekeeping force died during battles with guerrillas in the town of Tubmanburg last week, residents said.

"This place was covered with so many ECOMOG bodies," resident Annita Dolleh told reporters taken to the town Tuesday by United Nations officers and members of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group.

The town had been cut off since New Year's Day.

"I personally counted more than 60 ECOMOG bodies because they were there for several days," said Dolleh, a student from the capital, Monrovia.

"We buried people every day, some civilians, some ECOMOG soldiers," said Jusu Sirleaf, who took a journalist to a spot where he said 32 bodies had been interred in the town 45 miles west of the capital.

ECOMOG had said that seven soldiers of the force, dominated by Nigeria but including Ghanaian and Guinean soldiers, died in the clashes.

The fighting threatened an accord to end years of civil war in Liberia and ECOMOG's plans to start disarming 60,000 guerrillas next week.

A dozen earlier accords failed to end the civil war, which started in December 1989 and has wrecked the rubber and mining economy of the country founded by freed American slaves in 1847.

About 150,000 people have died in the war, the U.N. says.

The ECOMOG and U.N. officials visiting Tubmanburg were trying to consolidate a fragile cease-fire that was reached between the peacekeepers and faction leader Gen. Roosevelt Johnson over the weekend.

ECOMOG field commander Gen. John Inienger of Nigeria told Voice of America radio Tuesday that disarmament will start as planned Monday, contradicting other radio reports that deployment of peacekeepers had been suspended.

The United States is expected to start delivering helicopters this week as part of a package of logistics support it has pledged for the peace effort in Liberia.

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