Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 6 News List

US Marines land in Monrovia

PEACEKEEPING The Marines, part of a 2,300-strong task force floating offshore, flew into the Liberian capital yesterday and more Nigerian troops are expected soon

REUTERS , MONROVIA, LIBERIA

A female looter, left, is beaten with a plastic electrical cord by a rebel soldier for attempting to loot grain from the rebel-controlled port in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

US Marines landed aboard nine helicopters in Liberia's capital yesterday to help West African peacekeepers take over security in the hungry and battle-worn city.

President Moses Blah was due to fly to Ghana for a meeting with officials of rebel factions to try to bring an end to nearly 14 years of strife now that pariah leader Charles Taylor has flown into exile.

Shooting erupted early yesterday around one of the key bridges where recent fighting that left 2,000 dead had been concentrated. Rebels called it an attack, but the government said it was just looters.

Rebels also started withdrawing their ragtag young fighters from other bridges into the heart of the city. Loyalist commanders said they would also pull back from their side.

"We are prepared to leave now but if they attack us, we will attack back," said rebel General Small Dennis.

Rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) are were to withdraw from the port yesterday and then pull back beyond the city limits. They will hand over to West African peacekeepers.

The US Marines who flew into Monrovia's airport are part of a 2,300-strong task force floating offshore to back up the peacekeepers. The Pentagon said on Wednesday that about 200 Marines would be deployed over the next few days.

US combat helicopters clattered over the city for a second day yesterday.

More Nigerian peacekeepers are also expected, so that those already in Monrovia can take control of the vital port.

Reopening the port will allow aid workers to ship in badly needed humanitarian aid to relieve hundreds of thousands of people who have been surviving on little food and water since the rebels attacked again last month.

Liberians would love to have a big American force on the ground.

But Washington, with heavy commitments elsewhere and mindful of the bloody debacle its forces suffered in Somalia a decade ago, is reluctant to get sucked into another potential African mire.

Fresh fighting south of Monrovia has already shown that getting rid of Taylor, indicted by a UN-backed court for his role in a savage conflict in Sierra Leone, would not be a guarantee of peace. Taylor is in exile in Nigeria.

Blah has already offered the rebels the post of vice-president as an olive branch and was expected to hold direct talks with rebel officials in Ghana yesterday.

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