Liberian rebel leader Charles Taylor made a defiant "no surrender" speech Sunday, condemning a West African peacekeeping force as murderous bandits.

But he admitted later his army of half-trained irregulars was retreating from positions around the capital against the heavy firepower of the Nigerian-led force."The front is very jagged right now . . . We have lost some ground around Monrovia," he said.

Taylor pledged to fight on in the hills if necessary when he met a group of foreign journalists at his new headquarters at Gbarnga, about 115 miles northeast of Monrovia.

Scores of his fighters patrolled the grounds and buildings, many of them "junior commandos" aged no more than 10 with AK-47 rifles slung over their shoulders.

"Our country has been invaded and attacked violently by bandits from the West African states of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia and Sierra Leone.

"They have killed hundreds of Liberian men, women and children, wounded many more and destroyed homes and properties," he said.

Monrovia was almost in his grasp before the West African force known as ECOMOG, and now said to number up to 9,000 men, landed in the capital in August.