Liberian rebels take control of diamond-mining town

Rebel forces have taken control of a key diamond-mining town in war-torn, northwestern Liberia, military officials said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

The rebel fighters, using heavy gunfire, met little resistance from government troops when they burst into Lofa Bridge three days ago, the officials told the AP on condition of anonymity.

Defense Minister Daniel Chea said he had received reports of fighting in Lofa Bridge and other places, but declined to elaborate, the AP reported.

Fierce gunbattles in another town, Tubmanburg, are reported to have divided the town between government forces and militia fighters who have waged a three-year campaign against President Charles Taylor, the AP reported. Taylor has said he is being targeted by loosing factions from Liberia’s bloody 1989-96 civil war, backed by Guinea.

Guinea denies the charge and accuses Liberia of supporting its own dissidents, as well as Sierra Leonean rebels who have attacked Guinean villages in the past.

A former warlord, Taylor started the civil war that killed 200,000 people and went on to be elected president at its close.

A government soldier, who recently returned from the area of the fighting, claimed the rebels were few in number, but well-armed with “rocket launchers and different types of heavy weapons,” the AP reported.

In London, the British Foreign Office said it was investigating reports that a British priest and 60 blind Liberian civilians who went missing in the area were taken to Voinjama, a rebel stronghold near the northern border with Guinea, the AP reported. The Rev. Garry Jenkins was said to be “well,” according to a report from locals. The Foreign Office has not been able to confirm the account.

Jenkins was last seen May 13, when he was trying to shepherd dozens of blind Liberians who were fleeing fighting.

He had lived among Liberia’s war-displaced for several years, according to church authorities in England.