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Government and rebel negotiators headed for neighboring Sierra Leone Monday for talks aimed at ending a civil war that has closed in on the capital, prompting people to evacuate by the thousands.

Witnesses said rebels won control Sunday of the country's international airport, which had been closed for a week by fighting. They were also reported to have recaptured most of an adjacent rubber plantation.In the capital of Monrovia 35 miles to the west, foreigners converged by the hundreds on a small airfield on Sunday and got evacuation flights out of the West African nation.

The rebels trying to oust the government of President Samuel Doe control most of Liberia, a country of 2.5 million people. The 51/2-month-old civil war has left more than 1,000 dead.

Witnesses said the rebels on Sunday had taken Smell-No-Taste, a village that had a small army garrison a few hundred yards from the Robertsfield Airport runway, putting the airport under their control.

The village's names dates back to World War II, when U.S. soldiers were camped at the airport and villagers nearby could smell - but never tasted - their cooking.

Monday, peace talks were to begin at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The rebels, led by former Doe aide Charles Taylor, and the government were sending delegations.

People fleeing the fighting outside the capital said Sunday that the reb-els held most of the American-managed Bridgestone-Firestone rubber plantation during the weekend.

The rebels appeared to have cut off some of 300 government troops who had been sent to recapture the world's largest rubber plantation.

Witnesses said soldiers appeared to have been driven into two of the plantation's many compounds. With them were thousands of refugees who have fled fighting further north.

The United States arranged to fly 362 people from the small Spriggs Payne Airfield aboard three chartered Air Guinea flights to Ivory Coast's capital, Abidjan, and then on Monday to Charleston, S.C.