Rebels feigning surrender attacked the town of Kabala in northern Sierra Leone, sparking a fierce battle and sending thousands of civilians fleeing, West African peacekeepers and witnesses said.

Monday's attack followed a weekend call from detained rebel leader Foday Sankoh for his supporters to respect a truce, but ECOMOG peacekeeping force commander Brigadier Maxwell Khobe said he had no immediate plans for a major retaliatory offensive.News of the attack comes as a high-level U.N.-sponsored international meeting opens on Thursday in New York to find ways of rehabilitating the West African nation after years of conflict.

"No, we will not go on the offensive. Two wrongs don't make a right," Khobe, whose force ejected a military junta and its rebel allies from Freetown in February, told reporters late on Wednesday. He said there had been deaths on both sides.

It was not immediately clear whether ECOMOG or the Revolutionary United Front rebels and their ousted junta loyalist allies controlled the town, 125 miles from Freetown.

"I cannot tell as to whether my troops have taken control of the town," Khobe said.

Roman Catholic priests from the area said thousands of civilians had fled the fighting.

Khobe said rebels and junta loyalists came into the town with white cloths around their heads, saying they wanted to surrender.

"While ECOMOG soldiers were making arrangements to have them surrender, a third batch entered the town and opened fire on ECOMOG solders, which led to a fierce battle between my troops and them," he added.