MONROVIA, LIBERIA, JULY 31 -- The following, filed by the Associated Press, is based in part on a pool report by correspondents in Monrovia:
Government troops staged a surprise counterattack today on rebel forces fighting to oust President Samuel Doe, and recaptured sections of this capital city's center.
The offensive came a day after Doe's troops were accused of killing hundreds of civilians crowded in a Lutheran church compound seeking refuge from the seven-month-old civil war.
The United States, with fighting raging around its Monrovia embassy, said it was considering calling for a United Nations peace-keeping force to intervene in this West African nation.
Doe, whom rebels accuse of corruption and brutal suppression of opposition, made his first public statement since rebels reached the city's suburbs more than a month ago to repeat that he does not intend to surrender.
He vowed to "fight until the last soldiers in the Liberian army die," speaking in a telephone interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. from the fortified presidential mansion that has been under siege by rebel forces led by Prince Johnson. Another rebel faction, led by former government official Charles Taylor, has been bogged down on Monrovia's outskirts for more than a month.
About 500 government troops emerged from Barclay Training Center, the capital's main barracks, taking scattered rebel troops by surprise and recovering several downtown blocks, witnesses said.
Doe's soldiers, most of them members of his Krahn tribe, advanced behind their sole remaining tank toward two strategic bridges leading from downtown Monrovia to Bushrod Island, site of the capital's port and launching point of the rebel invasion of the city.
In seesaw battles with rebels led by Johnson, government forces recaptured the finance and defense ministries and fought their way through the main shopping district.
The counterattack led to heavy fighting in the embassy enclave of Mamba Point, which the rebels took Monday.
A high-rise building in the city center suspected of being a rebel observation point was set afire with a salvo from the government's multi-barrel "Stalin organ" rocket-launcher, witnesses reported.
Downtown, filled for several days with civilians searching for food, suddenly emptied. Shops, offices and ministries remained closed. Most of Monrovia's 500,000 inhabitants have been without food, running water or electricity all of July.
Doe in the interview said he was "not prepared to hand Liberia over to criminals," an apparent reference to embezzlement charges against Taylor, the rebel leader who fled Liberia after he was accused of stealing about $1 million from state coffers while he headed the government procurement agency.
Doe also denied his troops were responsible for a massacre Monday in which soldiers of his Krahn tribe reportedly gunned down and bayoneted 200 to 600 refugees in St. Peter's Lutheran Church in suburban Monrovia.
"I do not want to believe that the armed forces of Liberia would just walk into a church and kill innocent people," Doe said, blaming the killings on rebels wearing army uniforms.
The Liberian leader has admitted his troops attacked refugees at the U.N. compound on May 30, killing an unarmed security guard and abducting about 30 people whom they later killed.
St. Peter's remained inaccessible to foreign reporters and doctors. Volunteer nurses who tried to tend to the nearly 100 wounded were hampered by lack of equipment and vehicles, diplomats said.
Witnesses who managed to penetrate government lines said the soldiers again attacked civilian refugees Monday at the nearby J.J. Roberts Memorial School, killing at least four people.
About 5,000 people, most of them civilians, have died since rebels invaded the country from neighboring Ivory Coast in December in a bid to topple Doe's 10-year-old government.