MONROVIA, LIBERIA, JULY 22 -- This report, transmitted by the Associated Press, is based on a pool dispatch filed by journalists in Monrovia.
President Samuel Doe was a virtual prisoner in his oceanfront mansion today, with rebel troops engaged in house-to-house fighting less than a mile away and Doe's 500-member presidential guard refusing to let him flee without them, military sources said.
The sources said other military advisers closeted with Doe inside the eight-story stronghold were pressing the president to leave the city to avoid last-ditch fighting that could end in slaughter of the defenders. The sources described Doe's once opulent stronghold as looking like a desolate defensive encampment, with soldiers roaming littered hallways and the president sequestered most of the time in his fifth-floor apartment.
One diplomatic source said the building, which has a commanding view of the city, is jammed with ammunition and explosives in preparation for a final rebel assault.
Doe's palace guard is composed of soldiers from his Krahn tribal group, who fear massacre at the hands of the rebels, most of whom are members of the rival Gio and Mano tribes. Sources inside the mansion said the guardsmen gathered with Doe on Saturday and told him they would refuse to allow him to leave unless their collective safety were guaranteed. There were also reports of deep divisions among advisers closest to Doe, the sources added, with some arguing for a fight to the end and others for immediate flight, with or without the Krahn bodyguard.
As their price for allowing Doe to leave, the Krahn soldiers seek safe passage to their home region in Grand Gedeh County, the last territory in the country still controlled by Doe apart from a few remaining square miles in downtown Monrovia. But spokesmen for the rebel National Patriotic Front, led by former government official Charles Taylor, say the insurgents would fiercely resist any effort by Doe to evacuate his forces to Grand Gedeh.
Doe, in a telex today to the British Broadcasting Corp., said he would remain until "a clear victor emerges," while a diplomatic source said the president "is convinced he is invincible."
Heavy fighting continued today close to the heart of Monrovia, as Doe's forces fired a Romanian-made multiple rocket launcher toward a rebel-held bridge spanning the St. Paul River north of the city. Rebel troops have overrun all of the Bushrod Island district, which includes the harbor and its shipping facilities, and were trying to seize two key bridges leading directly to the city center.
The rebels have accused Doe, who took power in a 1980 coup, of corruption, mismanagement and human-rights abuses. Taylor, who launched the insurrection with an invasion from neighboring Ivory Coast last Christmas Eve, has promised to maintain close ties with the United States if he comes to power, but he has ruled out immediate elections. The African nation, founded by American blacks 150 years ago, has traditionally had close ties with Washington.
The U.S. Embassy has been trying without success to persuade Doe to flee his surrounded capital. But Washington has refused to send in a peace-keeping force, and on Saturday, Doe ordered the American military attache expelled, accusing him of aiding the rebels. The United States denied the accusations.
Representatives of the government and the rebels have met intermittently for peace talks in neighboring Sierra Leone, but the negotiations made no progress, and the government delegation issued a statement Saturday calling on Doe to resign.
The statement, signed by Information Minister Emmanuel Bowier, said the delegation had "advised President Doe, in the supreme interest of our nation and people, to make the supreme political sacrifice in order to save Liberia from further destruction of lives and properties and to ensure his personal safety."