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French Troops Evacuate Hundreds of Foreigners from Liberia - 2003-06-09

French soldiers are evacuating several hundred foreigners from Liberia amid renewed fighting very close to the center of the capital Monrovia.

About 60 elite French soldiers are evacuating foreigners by helicopter and then by boat to Ivory Coast, where the French troops are based.

The foreigners are being taken from the European Union headquarters in Monrovia, as well as from nearby embassies, where they have been regrouping.

Among them are staff of the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and the U.S. Embassy. Foreign nationals from Lebanon and Ivory Coast are also being evacuated.

Liberian aid workers are staying in Monrovia to help thousands of displaced people, who have gathered at the Samuel Doe sports stadium, southeast of Monrovia, after fleeing the rebel offensive.

Despite repeated appeals for a cease-fire by leaders of the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, their fighters have refused to stop their attacks on Monrovia.

The resumption of Liberian peace talks to end the four-year civil war, which are being held in Ghana, were delayed again Monday, even though envoys for another rebel group, MODEL, finally arrived.

Instead, Ghanaian mediators headed to Monrovia to try to secure a cease-fire directly between Mr. Taylor and rebel commanders on the ground.

The rebels, who control more than two-thirds of Liberia, are calling on President Charles Taylor to step down immediately, saying they will not negotiate with an international war criminal.

Last week, a United Nations-backed court in Sierra Leone indicted Mr. Taylor for war crimes during the 1990s. The indictment was handed down while Mr. Taylor was in Ghana for the opening of the peace talks. Ghanaian authorities let Mr. Taylor return to Liberia, saying the timing of the indictment was an embarrassment to their diplomatic efforts.