Liberia's shaky cease-fire collapsed Friday when government troops and rebels battled for several hours in the capital, Monrovia.
Artillery and machinegun fire erupted before dawn. Government forces fired at random from the presidential mansion where up to 1,000 followers of the late President Samuel Doe have been trapped between rival rebel factions.The truce broke down despite the presence of 6,000 West African troops who intervened in Liberia on Aug. 24 to impose peace after nine months of civil war.
Violations of the truce began Thursday afternoon when rebels led by Prince Yormie Johnson discovered a large government arms cache in a central warehouse near the Defense Ministry.
Government forces tried to retrieve the weapons but were repelled by Johnson's fighters.
A witness present at Johnson's base when five truckloads of captured rocket launchers, mortars and ammunition were brought in described the rebel leader as "exuberant."
"Now I'm ready for Taylor. Now I'm going to get him," he quoted Johnson as saying.
Charles Taylor, who heads the biggest rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), warned Thursday that he would annihilate Johnson's followers as well as the five-nation West African peacekeeping force.
Speaking on a radio station in the eastern suburbs of Monrovia, he said: "If this war has to be fought for the next 10 years, we must be prepared because, as the president of Liberia, I am prepared to devote the next 10 years of my life to hunting these bandits until they leave."
Taylor derided the peacekeeping force, formed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as thieves, rogues and hooligans, adding "We will keep killing them until they realize they must go."
Taylor has boasted of killing 1,000 ECOWAS soldiers and of taking others as prisoners. ECOWAS officials said fewer than 50 men had been lost before a cease-fire took hold six days ago.
Radio France International reported Taylor had again threatened to attack any ships of the peacekeeping force if they entered Liberian waters.
One thousand Nigerian troops arrived in Monrovia by ship on Thursday, followed by 482 Ghanaian paratroopers.
The reinforcements were brought in by the force's new field commander, Nigerian Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro, who toured the war-torn city Friday.