There was more fighting in the Liberian capital Monrovia Friday, as preparations for the arrival of an international peacekeeping force continued, and West African officials tried to convince President Charles Taylor to leave.
PESSIN: Nicole, first of all, tell me what the situation is today with the fighting. I understand there has been a little bit of an upsurge after a relatively calm day on Thursday.
ITANO: Early this morning people were back out on the streets, I think hoping for another calm day. But about 8:00 - 8:30 in the morning there was some renewed fighting by the bridge, there were some mortars, heavy gun fire, and I'm told, I am no longer in that area, but I'm told that the gunfire is continuing down there and that people have again taken refuge in the buildings that they have been living in for the past several days.
PESSIN: So people didn't have much chance then today to continue their efforts to find food and water and shelter and so on?
ITANO: No, in fact, in the area where there has been the heaviest fighting down by two main bridges separating the rebel and government-controlled areas, this is the first day in fact where people went out. Even yesterday people were a bit uncertain, there was still sporadic gun fire in the area and so this morning, for the first time, they were hoping they could get out to get some food, but as I said, by fairly early this morning is was clear that today was going to be another day with continued fighting.
PESSIN: Meanwhile, today is the second day of the logistical team that is looking into the arrangements for the West African peacekeeping force. The first part of the main force is expected on Monday but I understand some additional troops may be arriving today?
ITANO: Yes, I have been told by the U.S. Embassy that they are expecting to helicopter in some of the Nigerian peacekeepers from Sierra Leone to the U.S. Embassy [here] hopefully sometime today. This team will be sort of a logistical team that will look at how the Nigerian troops from both Sierra Leone and Lagos could be deployed. But again, these will be the first actual peacekeepers to arrive in the country.
PESSIN: Meanwhile, diplomats are also heading in the meet with President Taylor I believe in the hopes that they can convince him to abide by the ultimatum that was given to him on Thursday by West African leaders to leave Liberia within three days of the arrival of the main peacekeeping force on Monday. What is going on on the diplomatic front?
ITANO: Well, my understanding is that Mohammed Ibn Chambas who is the executive secretary of ECOWAS will be arriving today with several foreign ministers including the foreign ministers of Togo, Ghana and I think also Nigeria. As you said they will be trying to meet with Charles Taylor and discussing what happens after the arrival of the peacekeepers. Yesterday there was quite a lot of hope. Today there has been some indication from Taylor's spokesman in Accra that Mr. Taylor would not necessarily leave after the three days, but wanted some assurances about what would happen, what kind of transitional government would replace him. So again the departure of Taylor is once again up in the air and slightly uncertain about exactly when and how that will occur.
PESSIN: Finally, Nicole, you have been in the country now for about 24 hours and you have had a chance to see more of the capital. What can you tell us about the humanitarian situation that we have heard so much about?
ITANO: People are still very desperate and come up to you in the street saying they have no food, they have no water. It is not as desperate as it was several days ago because people have had the chance to get out of their houses to try to forage for food and to get some clean water. But again, these are people who have had very little access to medical care, very little access to food. People have no money to buy food often even when it is available so there is desperate need for humanitarian intervention, for food distribution and most of all for an increase in stability so that people can get back to their houses and back to their every day lives.