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Coup Attempted by Liberian Rebels Thwarted by African Peacekeepers

By Cindy Shiner
The Washington Post

An attempted coup by Liberia's defunct national army was put down Thursday by African peacekeepers who thwarted the putsch with a dramatic assault on the executive mansion that soldiers had seized earlier in the day.

The coup attempt was allegedly led by Charles Julue, a former army officer with a reputation for atrocities who served under military president Samuel Doe, who was killed at the height of the civil war in 1990.

Julue's action reflects a breakdown of order in Liberia as its citizens grow desperate for a firm hand to lead them out of the military stalemate that emerged after efforts to disarm the country's various factions failed in March.

Since 1990, a number of factions have battled for control of this West African nation of 2.3 million people. About 60,000 soldiers have been involved in fighting that has killed an estimated 150,000 people.

During Thursday's coup attempt, peacekeepers fired on the seaside mansion from a gunboat and rebellious soldiers returned fire. One shell from an undetermined location landed behind offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, killing at least one person.

The peacekeepers, who have been in Liberia for four years, then stormed the mansion, said Brig. Gen. Abdullahi Mukhtar, chief of staff for the 10,000-strong peacekeeping force. At least three peacekeepers were injured; it was unclear how many casualties the rebel soldiers suffered.

The mansion was the last holdout in the coup attempt, with at least 100 soldiers holed up inside. Mutinous troops had attempted to seize control of Liberia's radio and telecommunications offices before dawn but were routed by peacekeeping troops.

A peace accord signed in Ghana this week among three Liberian faction leaders did little to raise hopes here that nearly five years of civil war will soon come to an end. Instead, the accord has thrown the peace process into a tailspin, and many Liberians are accusing the United Nations of undermining the negotiations.

Representatives participating in a national conference set up to debate Liberia's future have sought the replacement of U.N. special representative Trevor Gordon-Somers because he backed the agreement.

The new agreement calls for the replacement within two weeks of the five-member executive council that runs the interim government installed after another peace accord last March. Representatives of three of Liberia's six factions would replace the council until elections are organized.

Opponents of the accord accuse the United Nations of capitulating to the demands of rebel leader Charles Taylor, saying the agreement moves him closer to his goal of becoming Liberia's leader.