U.S. Troops Land in Liberia; Rebels Withdraw
Thousands of people came out to cheer for the arrival of ECOMIL forces, the military wing of Economic Community of West African States. The African peacekeepers were accompanied by the American troops who are expected to total 200-strong within the next few days.
The rebel withdrawal allowed ECOMIL forces to cross key bridges, which will allow the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid, especially to the government-held side of the city, where hundreds of thousands of people have been surviving on little more than leaves.
In a brief ceremony today, U.S. Ambassador John Blaney and Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel chief of staff Abdullah Sherrif shook hands in the center of a bridge that marked the front line of the war, signaling the rebel handover, the Associated Press reported.
Rebels left the port firing into the air while heading north toward Po River to their new promised boundary outside of the city. They carried AK-47s, rocket launchers and other arms, sacks of food and other looted stock, according to the AP.
“This operation today is going to be an important one,” Blaney said as the Marines landed at the airport. “You are going to see American boots on the ground and a firm commitment to uphold humanitarian concerns in this country.”
Fifty of those Marines will help the flow of aid into Monrovia again.
“U.S. America,” chanted a jubilant crowd as a small group of Marines accompanied the Nigerian peacekeepers.
Securing the port will be the first step for peacekeepers. The U.S. and World Food Program stock of food has been looted in the last couple of days. Thousands of people were running from the area with bags of grain and other stock on their heads.
In addition to the U.S. Marines, another battalion of Nigerian peacekeepers is expected to fly in today, joining 800 ECOMIL soldiers already there.
As Liberians celebrated the arrival of ECOMIL forces, newly named Liberian President Moses Blah arrived in Ghana for a meeting with leaders of the rebel factions. Blah is working to end the 14 years of unrest that has cost 250,000 lives in West Africa.