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Liberians Attempt to Venture into Rebel-Held Territory in Search of Food - 2003-08-06

Residents of the Liberian capital Monrovia continued to wait Wednesday for Nigerian peacekeeping troops. They took advantage of a lull in the fighting to look for food and other supplies.

Government troops fired into the air Wednesday morning to prevent people from crossing a bridge out of central Monrovia into rebel-held territory to look for food. The rival forces at the two ends of the bridge have an informal cease-fire, and journalists and relief workers have crossed the bridge. But the soldiers are refusing to allow ordinary Liberians to cross.

In a phone call from a rebel-held area, Liberian journalist Winston Monboe told VOA the food situation in the rebel zone is far better than in the government controlled parts of Monrovia. He reports the rebels have allowed food to reach the people from the seaport they control.

"The living conditions are relatively improved. People have food here to eat. They go out, moving around," he said. "And it's quite unbelievable that you will see the kind of lives going on here."

Mr. Monboe reports the rebels say they will welcome the deployment of the peacekeepers, as long as President Charles Taylor leaves the country.

Nigerian peacekeeping troops who began arriving Monday have not yet been deployed in the capital. There were indications the force might begin its deployment in government-held areas on Wednesday, and might move into rebel-held areas by Friday.

Also on Wednesday, a small contingent of U.S. troops arrived at the U.S. embassy compound. President Bush authorized the soldiers to go to Liberia to work on logistics for the possible deployment of a larger U.S. force. But President Bush has not yet decided to deploy such a force.

Meanwhile, Liberian President Charles Taylor has cast new doubt on whether he will leave the country, as he agreed to do in a peace accord signed in June. Mr. Taylor has promised to resign on Monday. But he says he will not accept Nigeria's offer of asylum unless a United Nations tribunal drops war crimes charges against him.