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Fighting Eases in Monrovia, Freighter With Refugees Takes On Water

May 9, 1996

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Sporadic gunfights echoed across the city Thursday, but faction leaders appeared to be heeding calls for a truce after diplomats warned the world was ready to give up on Liberia.

A Nigerian freighter overloaded with thousands of Liberian refugees was taking on water off the port of San Pedro in neighboring Ivory Coast, but authorities still would not allow it to dock.

Women and children were taken from the ship, but some 4,000 men were forced to remain on board for a second day without food or water while Ivorian workers attempted to repair the leaky vessel.

U.N. spokesman Francis Kpatinde said the Ivorian authorities fear some of the refugees were among the fighters who have destroyed the Liberian capital in a month of violence.

Nigeria put forth one solution to Liberia’s woes, offering temporary residence Thursday to warlord Roosevelt Johnson, whose standoff with rivals Charles Taylor and Alhaji Kromah ignited the fighting April 6.

There was no immediate response from Johnson, who was ousted from Liberia’s government in March and is wanted on murder charges.

A planned peace summit in Accra, Ghana, was canceled Wednesday, but West African leaders urged Liberia’s warring factions to adhere to an August 1995 peace accord. They also called for a cease-fire, the immediate withdrawal of armed fighters from Monrovia, the return of looted property and the continuation of Liberia’s six-man interim government.

In addition, they said Johnson should be given back his Cabinet post in the government that includes Taylor, Kromah and four others.

However, the likelihood of an immediate peace appeared dim, as both Taylor and Kromah have insisted they won’t be satisfied until Johnson faces trial.

Nigerian military spokesman Fred Chijuka said the failure of the peace talks should be a warning. ``Everybody is getting fed up with their tricks,″ Chijuka said. ``They might have to go it alone.″

``One has to hope that they will understand this is about their last chance with the international community,″ U.S. Ambassador William Milam said in Monrovia.

As he spoke, rival factions battled one another with shells, grenades and machine-gun fire in street battles that spread into the Mamba Point diplomatic area, near the U.S. Embassy. While not as intense as the fighting Wednesday, fighters still dashed along the beaches and deserted streets, firing wildly.

The fighting that began April 6 unleashed a citywide spree of looting and mayhem that left hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people dead and prompted the U.S. military to airlift 2,200 foreigners from the city.

Tens of thousands of Liberians remain holed up in makeshift refugee areas. Health workers were vaccinating children Thursday against measles in the U.S. Embassy residential compound that now houses about 20,000 displaced Liberians.

Thousands of others have moved into the looted and abandoned U.N. buildings along the wide avenue in front of the U.S. Embassy. The street has become a crowded but secure haven for civilians because of the nearly 300 U.S. Marines guarding the embassy.

As shots flew Thursday, civilians ventured around the corner to fetch water from the sea, then scurried back to the shadow of the embassy.

Taylor launched Liberia’s civil war on Christmas Eve in 1989, when he led a rebel army assault on the dictatorship of President Samuel Doe. Since then, Doe has been slain, more than 150,000 people have died and half the population of 2.9 million has been made homeless.

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