Aircraft Take Off Under Threats From Guerrillas With PM-Liberia-Siege, Bjt
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Three small planes flew out of Liberia’s besieged capital today, despite threats from rebel leader Charles Taylor that they would be shot out of the sky.
Their safe departure reinforced reports that West African troops defending Monrovia are pushing Taylor’s fighters out of the city’s suburbs.
Soldiers from the seven-nation force manned roadblocks and said they had retaken parts of the Gardnersville suburb, raising hopes that the bodies of five slain American nuns could be recovered.
Since they began their siege of Monrovia on Oct. 15, the rebels have been targeting James Spriggs Payne Airfield. They fired rockets that fell within yards of the runway two weeks ago.
Only one chartered airline, WEASUA Air Transport, which charges twice the rates of scheduled airlines, still flies into the capital.
Before the planes took off this morning, Taylor broadcast a radio warning asserting they were an ″enemy target″ transporting arms for the West African force sent to halt Liberia’s 3-year-old war. A WEASUA official said the claim was ″completely untrue.″
″We transport relief supplies for the United Nations and other relief agencies, and we carry civilians,″ said the company’s managing director, Manuel Cuenca.
The three 12-seat Cessna aircraft carrying 31 passengers departed for Abidjan, Ivory Coast and Freetown, Sierra Leone.
There have been no rocket attacks around the airport for 10 days, following a week of terror when rockets exploded in central Monrovia.
A chartered Boeing 707 carrying badly needed medical supplies and personnel for the Belgian branch of Doctors Without Borders was diverted to neighboring Ivory Coast last week after Taylor said that aircraft would be targeted.
Airline sources said a U.S. Hercules C-130 transport plane was scheduled to fly into Monrovia on Saturday.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plane would pick up belongings of U.S. Embassy personnel who have been evacuated. Since fighting began in 1990, the U.S. Embassy has reduced its staff from 600 to 22.