Liberians Venture Out, U.S. Emissaries Arrive to Bolster Truce
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Taxis and residents ventured out warily Monday on to streets charred and nearly abandoned during two weeks of fighting, and U.S. diplomats arrived to bolster a cease-fire enforced by African peacekeepers.
Young fighters in battered, sometimes doorless cars still cruised the city with rifles pointing out the windows, but the third day of a truce among the country’s main warring factions was holding as night fell.
Monrovians who fled looted homes embraced neighbors they hadn’t seen since fighting began April 6. A few taxis were out, charging five times the usual rate.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Twaddell and three other U.S. officials landed late Monday and planned to meet Tuesday with leaders of the Liberian government and the West African peacekeeping army, ECOMOG, in hopes of maintaining the peace.
They came with a White House promise of $30 million in additional aid to the peacekeepers, who have long accused the West of not giving them enough money and equipment.
Still, the United States has made clear it will not offer troops to assist the African peacekeeping army, which was deployed in Liberia five years ago to try to quell a civil war that has killed 150,000 people since 1989.
About 2,000 U.S. Marines are stationed on Navy ships off the Liberian coast, but most will remain there unless needed to bolster the 230-person force protecting the U.S. Embassy.
Twaddell’s meetings, expected to last until Thursday, will focus on logistical or training assistance the United States might offer the eight-nation African peacekeeping force.
The peacekeepers have been accused of standing by while young fighters of Liberia’s warring factions looted and shot their way through Monrovia, the capital. They deny wrongdoing, however, saying their mandate requires them to remain neutral.
``These kids come by and point a rifle at us and say, `If you try to stop the looting I’ll shoot you,‴ said one weary peacekeeper, Nigerian soldier Sarki Aliyu.
U.S. helicopters have carried 1,971 foreigners, including 349 Americans, to safety in neighboring Sierra Leone and Senegal since April 10, State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said in Washington.
The evacuations continued Monday, as American helicopters ferried out 22 Lebanese, including eight children, from Monrovia’s U.S. embassy compound. Another 30 were to be evacuated later.
They were among the thousands of civilians _ Liberians and others _ trapped inside the besieged Barclay Training Center army barracks, the center of the fighting.
Under a truce mediated Friday, warlord Roosevelt Johnson agreed to let all foreigners leave the compound and let the peacekeepers set up a buffer zone around it to halt fighting between his soldiers and those of rival Charles Taylor.
The fighting began when Liberia’s interim government, which includes Taylor, tried to arrest Johnson on murder charges stemming from violations of an August 1995 peace accord.
The U.S. diplomatic mission comes during a three-day halt in foreign-led negotiations to see how Liberia’s truce holds up without outside intervention.
Despite the devastation of the last few weeks, some Liberians remained hopeful.
``Maybe tomorrow, if everything is still under control, I can open up,″ said shoe store owner Mohamed Affa, standing on a block of shuttered shops.