West African peacekeepers deploy in Monrovia

 

Long-awaited West African peacekeepers arrived Liberia by helicopter today and started to deploy around the airport, as war-weary Liberians danced for joy in ruined streets on hopes of an end to 14 years of bloodshed.

Nigerian soldiers in flak jackets and helmets leapt out under driving rain at the international airport near the war-battered capital Monrovia, running to take up positions in the long grass around the cracked tarmac.

"We are very happy for them to be here, so that this war can come to an end," army chief of staff General Benjamin Yeaten said. "Liberians are very tired of war. Civilians are dying every day."

In Rome, rebel leader Mr Sekou Conneh, whose forces control Monrovia's vital port, said his fighters would withdraw the minute the Nigerians moved in. He demanded again that President Charles Taylor leave the country as soon as possible.

Some rebels danced behind their frontline to celebrate the coming of peacekeepers to a city enjoying its quietest day after more than two weeks of street battles. However, fighting continued in the second city of Buchanan.

Defence Minister Daniel Chea urged the international community to put pressure on the rebels to respect a June 17th ceasefire, which has never been more than a dead letter.

Starved of food, short of clean water and sheltering wherever they can, Liberians were jubilant at the arrival of peacekeepers they hope will quickly end the open warfare and allow humanitarian aid to start flowing again.

Liberians on both sides of the frontline celebrated, some sporting T-shirts with "Thank God for Ecomil" (the peacekeeping force) and a picture of the Liberian Lone Star flag. The back bore a wishful slogan: "Peace at last."