West African Flotilla Anchors Off Monrovia; Gunfire Delays Landing
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Six ships carrying 3,000 West African soldiers arrived off Monrovia on Friday, but did not attempt to dock as gunfire erupted in the port of the Liberian capital.
The Economic Community of West African States sent the troops to enforce a cease-fire in Liberia’s 8-month civil war, which has claimed the lives of 5,000 people, mostly civilians.
But rebel chief Charles Taylor has threatened to fight the five-nation West African task force, saying the peace plan is a ploy to keep President Samuel Doe in power.
Taylor’s National Patriotic Front has the largest of the three armies - about 10,000 strong - in the West African nation of 2.5 million people.
Diplomats in Abidjan in radio contact with Monrovia said the West African ships had tried radioing to the port for permission to berth, but had not received a response. Some gunfire was then heard in the port, where the task force had planned to land.
The port in the northwest of the capital is controlled by rebel leader Prince Johnson, a rival of Taylor. Johnson’s forces hold most of Monrovia.
Johnson’s forces and troops loyal to Doe declared a truce Monday, and said they would welcome the West African intervention. They also said they were ready to join forces to resist any attacks by Taylor.
Taylor’s chief spokesman, Tom Woewiyu, said that if the five-nation task force lands its soldiers will be regarded as the ″enemy and we will shoot at them.″ Taylor’s forces control most of the country outside the capital.
The task force’s chief of staff, Brig. Cyril Igwueze of Nigeria, said Thursday on Nigerian state television that the West African troops have no desire to shoot their way into Monrovia, but he warned that ″we are able and willing to defend ourselves if attacked.″
Troops from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Guinea are in the force. Togo said it would send troops but did not.
Guinean troops were preparing to cross their border into northern Liberia to meet up with the rest of the force, which would take them through territory controlled by Taylor.
Lt. Gen. Arnold Quainoo of Ghana, the task force’s commander, has said he does not want to risk entering Liberia without a truce.
The task force has orders to avoid combat while negotiations for a cease- fire continue. Talks were to resume Monday in Banjul, Gambia, but Taylor has not said whether he would send envoys.
Taylor, a former government official turned guerrilla leader, has said he is concerned that hundreds of the soldiers come from Nigeria and Guinea, whose leaders in the past have supported Doe.
Efforts to persuade Taylor to accept the force collapsed Wednesday after his representatives and West African leaders conferred for two days in Banjul.
A large part of Taylor’s army is camped on the eastern outskirts of Monrovia, where a few hundred government soldiers have held them at bay for weeks.
Fighting has raged in Monrovia since late June. Taylor led his forces into Liberia from the Ivory Coast on Dec. 24, saying Doe’s government was corrupt and he would oust it. Johnson later split with Taylor.
West African leaders decided to intervene on Aug. 6. They said the war was no longer an internal conflict because thousands of their citizens were trapped in Liberia and about 400,000 Liberian refugees were burdening neighboring countries.