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Liberians Storm Port, Rebels Prepare to Leave Capital

BY Admin  August 13, 2003 at 6:00 PM EST

Correspondents reported seeing men, women and children ripping open sacks, looking for something to eat. Rebels, hoping to disperse the mob, fired shots into the air in an effort to control the chaos.

“They are hungry. We can’t stop them taking food that was brought for them and not distributed. We are going tomorrow. We are packing little by little,” rebel official Sekou Fofana said.

The rebels promised to hand the port over on Thursday to peacekeepers who will distribute food shipments to hundreds of thousands of people left in desperate conditions in Monrovia where fighting has left 2,000 dead, Reuters reported.

Also Wednesday, new Liberian President Moses Blah met with the U.S. ambassador to discuss American involvement in the region. Afterwards, Blah told reporters U.S. fighter jets would begin monitoring the situation.

“According to the ambassador, within a few hours you will see American jet fighter planes patrolling the skies of Liberia to bring peace to Liberia,” Blah said.

The U.S. has three warships anchored off of Monrovia, but Pentagon officials have said that the only American ground troops would be small groups of Marines, maybe five or six at a time, to help distribute and coordinate aid.

Although most of the fighting has ended, nearly 14 years of civil war and turmoil have left the country devastated. A senior United Nations humanitarian official who just arrived in Liberia, said rebuilding the war-torn West African nation would take at least two years.

“The situation on the ground is very desperate here in Monrovia,” Carolyn McAskie told Reuters. “We are very concerned about the large number of displaced but also the people in their homes who have no access to food.”

Despite the relative calm in the Liberian capital, officials reported sporadic clashes between rebels and some militia members still loyal to departed President Charles Taylor. Fighting erupted on Tuesday near the second largest city of Buchanan. Peacekeepers, who were moving into the city, withdrew, hoping to avoid a large gun battle.