- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003

MONROVIA, Liberia — West African advance officers aided by U.S. contractors scoped out campsites, aid groups flew in some of the first food shipments, and hopes of rescue rose in Liberia’s bloodied capital yesterday on the eve of a multinational peace deployment.

On Monrovia’s Atlantic beaches, fishermen and fighters glanced at the horizon, where the U.S. Defense Department said two American warships sent to support the West African peace force waited, newly arrived but still out of sight.

“We want peace,” said refugee Love Marshall, 16, singing as she danced with a broom across the floor of a war-ruined, abandoned hotel. Refugees crowded onto the battered building’s lower levels, while President Charles Taylor’s gunmen lay in wait on its top levels, overlooking Monrovia’s rebel-held port.

Sporadic fighting persisted, focusing on the Old Bridge leading from the port to downtown, the last stronghold of Mr. Taylor’s government. Bursts of gunfire downtown sent children running into their parents’ arms.

Today is to bring deployment of 300 Nigerian troops, the vanguard of a 3,250-member West African force promised to come between Mr. Taylor’s forces and insurgents who have waged two months of bloody attacks on the capital.

Mr. Taylor, a former warlord, pledged Saturday to cede power Aug. 11 — meeting one demand by fellow African leaders and the United States.

But Mr. Taylor’s camp yesterday hedged on the president’s promise to go into exile in Nigeria, saying his agreement to yield power should be enough.

“The international community should give him a break. He’s made the ultimate sacrifice” by handing over power, Information Minister Reginald Goodrich said in an interview. “No one should ask him to do more than that.”

Mr. Taylor has been promising to yield power since June 4, when a U.N.-Sierra Leone court issued a war-crimes indictment against him for his support of rebels there in a brutal civil war.

The United States demands the departure of Mr. Taylor, blamed for 14 years of conflict in Liberia that have killed more than 100,000 since 1989. He also is accused of weapons trafficking and arming insurgents in the region.

Mr. Taylor made, and broke, repeated cease-fires, peace accords and power-sharing deals in the 1990s, often mounting attacks on deployments of West African forces here.

His government said Saturday that Mr. Taylor would leave Liberia only when an adequate number of peacekeepers are on the ground and when the war-crimes indictment is dropped.

U.N. prosecutors are adamant that Mr. Taylor face justice, raising the prospect of a standoff with the international peacekeepers and foreign powers.

Yesterday, a small West African assessment team laying the groundwork for the peacekeepers was gathering generators, food and fuel. Some of the goods were provided by U.S. suppliers through a $10 million U.S. support contract for the mission, said Col. Theophilus Tawiah of Ghana, the force’s chief of staff.

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