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Taylor: Battle Displacing Civilians

October 19, 2001

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ President Charles Taylor said fighting between government troops and dissidents in northern Liberia had displaced about 330,000 civilians.

``We have a massive crisis on hand,″ Taylor told reporters in the capital Thursday. ``The government is doing everything it can within its meager resources to provide assistance to our people.″

Liberian rebels have waged a low-level insurgency, mostly in northern Lofa County, since 1999.

Taylor says the rebels are backed by neighboring Guinea and have bases there. Guinea denies the claims and accuses Liberia of backing its own Guinean dissidents.

Taylor said four northern towns _ Salayea, Zorzor, Voinjama and Foya _ had been completely emptied of their inhabitants.

The latest fighting was taking places around the town of Kolahun, near the Guinean border, he said.

``Our troops have been able to move into and come out of Kolahun, and we have managed to contain the spread of the attack,″ Taylor said.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said in a report released Oct. 15 that Liberian troops had raped women and mistreated others in the war.

Taylor denied the claims, but accused rebels of carrying out similar atrocities.

``There is a widespread raping of women, young and old, by the rebels,″ Taylor said. ``They herd citizens together in houses and burn them alive.″

Journalists have been given no independent access to the north of the country where fighting is taking place.

Taylor thanked humanitarian agencies for assisting the displaced, but said the help was ``not half as much as what we would like to see being provided.″

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