Liberian rebels call cease-fire
MONROVIA, Liberia (CNN) -- Rebels fighting to oust Liberia's president have announced a cease-fire following five days of carnage, the latest episode in a civil war that began three years ago.
Charles Benny of the main rebel movement, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) said, "Our troops are being told to cease-fire," according to The Associated Press.
Shortly after the cease-fire announcement, however, a mortar round narrowly missed the residential compound where thousands of people have fled for safety across the street from the U.S. Embassy.
A mortar hit on the compound Monday killed at least 26 people. Tuesday's mortar struck a residential street opposite the European Commission compound, killing at least one, a U.S. military source said.
Sporadic mortar explosions could be heard Tuesday as driving rain swept across the capital city's deserted streets. But not even the rain could wash away the devastation and the blood of those killed and wounded.
News of the cease-fire call came from rebels and government representatives holding peace talks in Accra, Ghana.
Defense Minister Daniel Chea estimated Tuesday that 600 civilians had died in the previous five days. Hospital and aid workers said at least 100 died in Monday's fighting alone.
Chea was outraged by the report the rebels were ready to restart a cease-fire signed in June.
"[That] just makes us very angry when they were the ones that broke it in the first place," he said.
Chea backed U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's call for action by the international community.
Rebel groups have been fighting for four years to force President Charles Taylor to step down in the latest round of an intermittent, 14-year civil war.
Last month the sides signed a cease-fire and Taylor agreed to step down to accept exile in Nigeria.
But Taylor would not set a date for his departure, and last week the rebels' third assault on Monrovia in the last three months erupted.
Taylor was indicted last month on war crimes charges stemming from his involvement in neighboring Sierra Leone's civil war
Samuel Jackson, a Liberian government minister, told CNN that Taylor intended to leave, but only after a "nominal force -- 400, 500 men" is in place as a buffer.
"Now why is that being looked at as an unreasonable offer?" he said.
The international community, including the United States, is debating when and how to send troops to restore and maintain peace.
U.S. President George W. Bush has committed to help Liberia's West African neighbors deploy peacekeeping troops, but administration officials said there is too much confusion on the ground in the battle-scarred country.
The United States, the officials said, wants to wait for a period of calm before making a decision to send in forces.
The State Department has blamed the bloodshed on the main rebel group, calling on it to "immediately halt the offensive."
"We strongly condemn the rebel group ... for endangering the civilian population and ... making it difficult, if not impossible, for aid workers," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
Taylor should keep his commitment to leave the country as soon as possible, he said.
The Bush administration is also urging leaders of Guinea and Liberia's other neighbors to cut off supplies and weapons and prevent the flow of fighters across their borders.
A three-ship task force led by the amphibious assault carrier USS Iwo Jima was ordered Monday into the Mediterranean, closer to Liberia than its previous position on the Horn of Africa, with its 2,000 Marines and 2,500 sailors.
But Liberian government officials said the country could not wait for outside help.
"In the midst of all this bickering, our people are dying," said Chea. "In the name of humanity ... we must fit out our armed forces so we can defend our country."
-- CNN Producer Gaven Morris and Correspondent Jeff Koinange contributed to this report.