MONROVIA, Liberia — Rebels captured most of northern Monrovia today, squeezing several hundred remaining government troops into a narrow strip of land on both sides of President Samuel K. Doe's executive mansion.
The rebels, led by former Doe aide Charles Taylor, overran Monrovia's two-square-mile port area in the northern suburb of Bushrod Island. They advanced toward the two bridges linking the island to the center of the city.
Infiltrating rebel troops fought pitched battles with government soldiers who remained on Bushrod Island, witnesses said.
The witnesses said the main bridge across the Mesurado River was littered with the bodies of government troops this morning.
Two Liberian coast guard cutters were sunk in the port by gunfire during the battle for the area, shipping sources said.
Earlier reports today said the rebels had captured the cutters, although it was not clear who was commanding them when they were sunk.
On Thursday the rebels, who began fighting seven months ago, launched what appeared to be a major offensive about three miles from the center of Monrovia.
In downtown Monrovia, every shop and office was closed today. Nervous troops ordered civilians off the streets in an unofficial daytime curfew.
The curfew was in effect throughout the government-controlled areas and has prevented refugees from reaching Spriggs Payne Airport to catch the last few flights out of the country.
Soldiers set up makeshift roadblocks at intersections in the city center, firing wildly into the air to clear terrified civilians off the streets.
Hundreds of frightened Monrovians gathered at the gates of the U.S. Embassy hoping to seek refuge, while scores of others broke into a U.S. Marine compound demanding food and shelter.
Representatives of the government and the rebels have met intermittently for peace talks in neighboring Sierra Leone, but the negotiations have failed to make any progress.
The rebels have refused to compromise on their demand that Doe resign before any cease-fire can be implemented.