WASHINGTON — A rebel group Sunday captured President Samuel K. Doe of Liberia, a State Department official said, adding that U.S. observers believe Doe was wounded during a fierce gun battle in Monrovia.
"Our embassy has confirmed that he was captured," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Reports reaching Washington said that Doe was taken into custody by rebel Prince Yormie Johnson, who declared himself in charge of Liberia. The reports said Doe was wounded in both legs. Asked whether Doe had been shot, the State Department official replied: "We assume it's true."
The official said the State Department had received a number of accounts describing the shooting, most of them based upon a report by the British Broadcasting Corp. The official said the BBC had a correspondent at the scene. "There is nothing that I'm getting," the State Department official said, "that would differ very much at all with what the BBC is saying."
According to these reports, Johnson telephoned the BBC to say Doe had surrendered control of Liberia. The reports said that Johnson pledged not to kill Doe--but wants him to stand trial.
Johnson also said he would make Doe available for interviews by reporters from the international media.
The rebel Johnson is one of two leaders fighting to topple Doe. The other is Charles Taylor, who heads a group known as the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. Taylor's group controls most of the country. BBC correspondents said it was not immediately clear what Taylor's reaction would be--or whether Doe's capture would end the fighting in Liberia.
A peacekeeping force numbering 4,000 men was sent to Monrovia last month by the Economic Community of West African States to impose a cease-fire in a civil war that has killed thousands. Johnson has welcomed intervention by the peacekeepers. But Taylor has called them mercenaries, and he has threatened to fight the peacekeepers as long as they are in Liberia.
The BBC gave this account:
In a rare venture forth from his fortified seaside mansion in Monrovia, Doe and several dozen bodyguards paid an unscheduled courtesy call on the head of the peacekeeping force, Lt. Gen. Arnold Quainoo of Ghana. Johnson and some of his forces followed.
A quarrel erupted, and both sides began a raging battle with rifles, machine guns and grenades. The battle centered in an area near the headquarters of the peacekeeping force. More than 60 were killed in the fight, including many of Doe's bodyguards. Doe was shot in both legs.
Johnson's forces carried Doe off to their base camp, where Johnson said Doe would be court-martialed. A short time later, Johnson declared himself president and said that he would run Liberia until popular elections can be held.
Taylor, the rival rebel leader, previously had claimed the presidency.
Doe had swept to power in a bloody coup in 1980. He ruled the West African state with an iron fist. The rebel leaders also said that Doe stole millions of dollars of state funds and accused him of nepotism.
Last Dec. 24, civil war broke out when Johnson and other rebels loyal to Taylor invaded from Ivory Coast. In march, Johnson broke away to form a rebel faction of his own.
He agreed to an informal cease-fire when the West African peacekeepers arrived in Monrovia two weeks ago. But Taylor continued fighting.
As recently as Saturday, Taylor's rebels launched their own attack at the port of Monrovia against a group of soldiers in the peacekeeping force.
The attack added still more casualties in the confused tangle of civil hostilities. The war has left Monrovia without running water and telephone communications. It has made food scarce.
American officials in Monrovia said relief shipments of food now in neighboring Ivory Coast would remain there until the hostilities cease.
At the same time, there have been reports of cholera in a refugee camp near the port of Monrovia.
About 2,100 U.S. Marines are based on ships off the Liberian coast and are standing guard at the U.S. Embassy. They have helped evacuate hundreds of foreigners from the city.
The Marines have orders not to intervene in the civil war.
Liberia was founded in 1847 by descendants of American slaves.