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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberian Radio: 1,000 Killed in Massacre

MONROVIA, Liberia -- Liberia's week-old peace deal appeared under growing pressure Monday after a weekend of ceasefire violations and an unconfirmed state radio report of a massacre of 1,000 people in the remote and lawless Nimba County.

The reports of fighting also underlined the need for West African peacekeepers to spread out from the capital Monrovia.

U.S. helicopters flew reconnaissance flights Sunday ahead of the peacekeepers' deployment toward the rebel-held second city of Buchanan to secure an area where gunfire over the weekend triggered an exodus of terrified civilians.

The Liberia Broadcasting System said many civilians had been massacred by rebels in Bahn, some 240 kilometers northeast of Monrovia in Nimba County, where even the most intrepid foreign aid workers have not dared venture for three years.

The radio quoted one source in the area as saying 1,000 civilians had been killed, but there was no independent confirmation.

Information Minister Reginald Goodridge said he had no additional information, and was waiting to hear back from security officials. "We are monitoring the situation," he said Monday.

The radio report said Liberia's smaller rebel faction, known as Model, had carried out the massacre.

But security sources in Monrovia said that although they had reports of many people killed in fighting in the area, they believed it involved the other rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.

Rebel officials could not be reached for immediate comment.

"They came to attack us ... this morning. ... They are trying to push me from here, but we're not going to move," said General Kay Friday, 23, government commander in the Compound Number One area, some 80 kilometers from Monrovia.

Friday said the attackers, numbering 15 to 30, wore the red T-shirts of the Model rebel faction which holds Buchanan.

Government forces and LURD fighters accused each other of repeatedly attacking the others' positions at another location some 50 kilometers west of Bahn, in violation of the peace accord signed Aug. 18 in Ghana.

By Sunday, the flow of refugees along the road had dried up, but the calm was shattered when five U.S. helicopters roared past toward the port city of Buchanan.

Colonel Theophilus Tawiah of the West African peace force ECOMIL said the helicopters were carrying out reconnaissance in preparation for peacekeepers to move into the area.

In a statement, LURD called on ECOMIL peacekeepers to halt to what it described as abuses by a militia supporting exiled former president Charles Taylor.

ECOMIL peacekeepers, so far deployed only in the capital, are eventually due to be joined by soldiers from around the world and become a United Nations mission, giving it more clout.

Washington has three warships sitting off Liberia, founded in the 19th century by freed slaves from America. Only some 200 of the 2,300 U.S. soldiers have gone ashore to help ECOMIL, but U.S. helicopters and warplanes have provided backing.

Lieutenant Colonel Tom Collins, spokesman for the U.S. force, said a quick reaction force of around 150 Marines had moved from Monrovia's airport back on board the USS Iwo Jima in order to be able to deploy faster to different areas of Liberia.

U.S. President George W. Bush says U.S. troops will leave by October 1.

The peace deal is designed to set up an interim government to guide Liberia towards elections. The warring parties settled on Gyude Bryant, a low-profile Monrovia businessman viewed as a consensus builder, to lead the transition.

Caretaker President Moses Blah, due to hand over to Bryant in October, succeeded Taylor who quit under international pressure earlier this month.

The accord, signed by both sides last Monday, was designed to end 14 years of bloodshed, but although violence around Monrovia has been reduced, clashes have continued elsewhere.

Since Taylor launched a rebellion in 1989 to win power, Liberia has been the epicenter of a regional cycle of bloodshed in which 250,000 people have been killed. Taylor is now in exile in Nigeria.