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Liberians hope for supplies as rebels pledge exit
( 2003-08-13 09:41) (Agencies)

Desperate Liberians hoped on Wednesday that badly needed food and medicines would soon make their way to Monrovia as West African peacekeepers prepared to take control of the capital's vital port from rebel fighters.

Rebel soldiers dance and run on the New Bridge which was formerly the scene of heavy fighting in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 12, 2003. [AP]
A day after former President Charles Taylor stepped down and left the country, the main rebel faction said on Tuesday it would leave of the port and withdraw to beyond the limits of the battered city, where at least 2,000 people have died in recent fighting.

Many more famished refugees are crying out for help in a city where people have been surviving on little food and water for more than three weeks after a fierce rebel attack -- the latest chapter in nearly 14 years of almost non-stop civil war.

"We have been praying God to give us peace. We can see the peace in sight now. We bless God," said Vaani Folleny in the suburb of Duala.

Rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) pledged to pull out of the port by Thursday after a meeting with the U.S. commander of a task force sitting in three warships off Liberia's coast.

Rebel fighters of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy sing and dance near the main New Bridge in Monrovia, August 12, 2003.  [Reuters]
From there the rebels would withdraw to the Po River bridge, about eight miles from the outskirts of Monrovia.

Washington has not committed itself to using any of its 2,300 Marines in a peacekeeping role in Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves where many look up to the United States as a big brother and a natural ally.

But a senior U.S. defense official said small groups could be flown into Monrovia in the days ahead to help with tasks such as humanitarian aid.

The official told reporters in Washington he was talking about groups of five or six Marines and that the force's commander, U.S. Army Major General Thomas Turner, had discussed the matter with West African peacekeepers in the capital.


But he said there were no current plans to form a Marine "quick reaction force" to fly to the aid of the peacekeepers if heavy fighting broke out between the government and rebels.

Washington is wary of deep involvement given commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Memories also live on of a bloody debacle in Somalia a decade ago -- the last major U.S. military involvement in Africa.

Fresh fighting near Liberia's second port of Buchanan on Tuesday served as a grim reminder that Taylor's departure would not mean instant peace for the war-ruined country.

The government and a smaller rebel group known as Model accused each other of starting the latest violence. The battled appeared to have died down by Tuesday evening.

Taylor quit on Monday under fierce international pressure and began a new life in exile shortly afterwards in Nigeria's southeastern town of Calabar.

Indicted by a U.N.-backed war crimes court, boxed in by the rebels and told by the United States to go, he had no choice but leave or fight to the end.

New President Moses Blah, Taylor's former deputy, has urged President Bush to intervene and offered the rebels the post of vice-president as an olive branch.

But the rebels are reluctant to accept Blah, an old Taylor's ally, and say they want to head the new transition government, a new demand that may further complicate efforts to end Liberia's strife once and for all.

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