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FIGHTING RAGES IN MONROVIA DESPITE TRUCE

Warring factions renewed their fierce street battles in the capital Monday, and fighting continued past a cease-fire called by a powerful militia leader.

Charles Taylor, a government official and head of one of the militia groups that have ravaged Monrovia in a month of bloodshed, said he ordered his loyalists to lay down their guns at noon.But hundreds of his militiamen and allies continued to pour into the city center to increase their manpower around the besieged military training camp at the center of the monthlong battle.

Several rocket-propelled grenades slammed into the military camp, and small-arms fire kept up after noon. It was not clear who was firing.

U.S. Marines protecting the embassy fired at some of the street combatants Monday, the U.S. ambassador said.

"Some fire was directed at one of the Marine emplacements and they did fire back," Ambassador William Milam told reporters. He said there was no sign of casualties.

U.S. Marines shot dead three Liberians on April 30 after a 10-day truce collapsed and they came under fire when fighting moved close to the embassy.

Taylor, who touched off Liberia's civil war six years ago with a power grab, has refused to join other militia leaders and fellow members of the ruling council at peace talks to begin Wednesday in Accra, Ghana. He said the council's civilian chairman, Wilton Sankawulo, would represent the government at the talks.

Taylor has said his presence in Monrovia was necessary in an attempt to keep civil order. But some people fear he might try to use the other leaders' absence to make a power grab.

On Sunday, hundreds of people desperately tried to scale the sides of a Ghana-bound freighter to escape the violence that has killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Monrovia's residents.

At least 2,500 people jammed the Bulk Challenge when it set sail, waving farewell and singing "Lone Star Forever," a national hymn of Africa's first independent republic, founded by freed American slaves in 1847.

Heavy fighting over the weekend shattered hopes that the evacuation Friday of Taylor's arch-rival, Roosevelt Johnson, would spur moves to end the violence.

Hundreds of the 10,000 Liberians who have sought shelter at the U.S. Embassy residential compound watched in horror Sunday as five of Taylor's fighters were executed down a hill below.

The five men's throats were slit; one's ears were chopped off. Later, a boy of about 12 years danced nude around the bodies, waving an assault rifle above his head in a victory cheer.

Even before the latest violence, six years of war had already killed more than 150,000 Liberians and forced half of the country's 2.8 million people to flee their homes.