President Samuel Doe was reported Monday to have died of gunshot wounds suffered in fighting with rebels who captured him a day earlier.
On Sunday, breakaway rebel leader Prince Johnson named himself president until elections can be held. Shortly after Doe's capture, however, loyalists named a successor to the former Liberian leader.Liberia's main rebel group said Monday it would intensify the fighting, dashing hopes for an early end to the 8 1/2-month-old civil war that has left more than 5,000 civilians dead.
The National Patriotic Front led by Charles Taylor on Monday demanded withdrawal of the 3,000-member West African force in Monrovia to quell the fighting, which has often been tribal. The rebels had also accused Doe of corruption and human rights abuses.
Although fighters loyal to Johnson control the capital, Taylor's 10,000-member army has overrun most of the rest of Liberia.
In Washington, the State Department said it had been told by reliable sources that Doe had died from gunshot wounds suffered in his legs during a shoot-out Sunday with rebels loyal to Johnson.
A State Department spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said U.S. officials considered the reports confirmation of the Liberian leader's death.
``We have been informed by various sources, including representatives of rebel forces, that President Doe died ... (from wounds) that he suffered in the shoot-out with Johnson's forces over the weekend,' the spokesman said.
The British Broadcasting Corp. quoted witnesses who visited a Johnson camp near Monrovia as saying Doe's mutilated body was on display there.
The witnesses quoted by the BBC did not say how Doe had died. They said, however, they watched Johnson interrogating Doe about the disappearance of millions of dollars of state funds during his 10-year rule.
Gambian President Sir Dawda Jawara, chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, said Monday: ``Now that Doe has been toppled by Prince Johnson ... it might help the peace process in Liberia.'
Both Johnson and Taylor had demanded Doe step down.
The civil war began after Taylor crossed into the West African nation of 2.3 million residents from Ivory Coast on Dec. 24. The task force was dispatched Aug. 24 to end bloodletting that has often followed tribal lines.
Taylor declared Monday that his movement would ``intensify its efforts to bring this crisis to an end by moving into Monrovia at any expense.' He spoke in a broadcast over the state radio, which is behind his lines.
He has repeatedly claimed to be on the verge of seizing the capital but has been bogged down in the city's eastern suburbs for nearly three months. At one point, he claimed his forces killed Johnson.
Taylor spokesman Tom Wowieyu said his group will fight until the regional army pulls out.
He accused the West Africans of seeking to install ``a puppet government.'
``They have failed to be a peace force,' Wowieyu said in a telephone interview from Burkina Faso. ``Their mission has failed, and a prime example is the capture of Doe by the Prince Johnson group right in their headquarters.'
Doe was captured outside the headquarters of the West African task force where he had gone to pay an unscheduled visit to the force's commander, Lt. Gen. Arnold Quainoo.
Doe met with Johnson and some of his fighters outside the task force headquarters in Monrovia, and they quarreled.
Rebels battled the government troops with guns and grenades, chasing Doe and his entourage from room to room of the headquarters. The fighters captured Doe, shooting him in both legs, and carried him off to their camp.