MONROVIA, LIBERIA, AUG. 10 -- Following is a pool report, transmitted by Reuter, from journalists in Liberia.
Liberian rebel leader Charles Taylor said today that he was mounting a two-pronged assault to try to oust President Samuel K. Doe before the arrival of a peace-keeping force being formed by neighboring West African nations to stop the fighting.
Taylor's soldiers pushed through Monrovia's eastern suburbs toward the fortress-like mansion where the besieged president is holed up. Taylor said his men also were closing in from the port area on the other side of the capital, where he claimed they were crushing a breakaway rebel faction under rival leader Prince Johnson.
"I want to get Doe," Taylor said. "We're going to use some very, very heavy force."
The peace-keeping force, organized by the Economic Community of West African States, is expected to reach Liberia in just over a week, but newspaper reports in Lagos, Nigeria, said planes carrying 500 Nigerian soldiers might fly to Liberia as early as Saturday. Residents of Freetown, Sierra Leone, said they saw Nigerian naval vessels preparing to leave for Monrovia.
No official information was available on the timetable for the deployment of the joint force, but reports that rebels had attacked the embassies of two of the countries taking part in the planned intervention were expected to speed the action.
Rebels in the east of Monrovia have swept forward several miles in only three days since clearing a pocket of army resistance at a radio station in the outer suburb of Paynesville.
Asked whether their sudden advance after weeks of deadlock marked a push to oust Doe before the West African troops arrived, Taylor said, "Yes."
He said his men had reached Spriggs Payne airfield, about 2 1/2 miles from the presidential mansion, and were trying to dislodge government troops at a nearby barracks.
"Once we get there, we're within artillery range" of the mansion, he said.
Taylor said he would start bombarding Doe's refuge from the sea within 24 hours.
Journalists reaching a cluster of embassies in the Congo Town suburb, about four miles from the mansion, saw heavy smoke in the direction of the airfield.
Sporadic gunfire rattled around the embassy area during the morning, interspersed by occasional rounds of artillery fired by government troops. Witnesses said army soldiers were trapped between one rebel contingent near the embassies and another farther ahead.
Refugees poured out of the capital in the thousands to escape the fighting. According to an Organization of African Unity refugee official in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a half-million Liberians -- about a fifth of the population -- have fled to neighboring Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast to escape the fighting.
U.S. Marines have been evacuating Americans and other foreigners to offshore warships since Sunday. In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Marines have evacuated 150 people from Liberia this week, including the French and Italian ambassadors.
A Doe spokesman, Selly Thompson, said former justice minister Isaac Nyaplu was wounded Thursday when U.S. Marines in a helicopter fired on the presidential mansion in an assassination attempt against Doe. Thompson appealed for the international community to press the United States to stop its "excessive harassment" against Doe.
The State Department denied that the incident happened. Boucher said the 235 Marines airlifted into Monrovia Sunday to evacuate Americans were there to protect the U.S. Embassy and Americans and not to intervene in the fighting or take sides.
On Wednesday night, rebels loyal to Taylor attacked the embassies of Nigeria and Guinea, two of the countries providing troops for the peace-keeping force.
They forced thousands of people seeking refuge at the Nigerian Embassy -- mostly Nigerians -- into streets where battles raged. It was not clear whether anyone was injured, said a relief worker in Congo Town.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Rilwanu Lukman said in Lagos that his government told Taylor "that we will hold him personally responsible for any harm done to Nigerians inside the embassy at the time of the attack."
It was not clear what happened at the Guinean Embassy, which gave sanctuary to 5,000 people from the pro-Doe Mandingo tribe.
Guinea Radio called the attack on its embassy a "provocation" and said three guards were taken hostage by rebels. In Abidjan, sources said one woman was killed in the attack on the Guinean Embassy.