Long-awaited West African peacekeepers entered the besieged Liberian capital, Monrovia, on Thursday. They were welcomed by tens of thousands of people, who view the foreign soldiers as key to bringing stability to the war-battered country.
Tens of thousands of Liberians began lining the roads shortly after dawn to welcome the peacekeepers. Around noon local time, a convoy of more than 100 Nigerian soldiers rumbled down the road in white armored personnel carriers.
A mere glimpse of the soldiers sent the crowd into a joyful frenzy.
Shouting, "we want peace," Liberian men, women and children chased after the peacekeeping vehicles as the convoy made its way into the central district. Some of the soldiers blew kisses and waved white handkerchiefs.
A vanguard force of about 500 Nigerian-led peacekeepers arrived in the country earlier this week to enforce an often violated cease-fire agreement signed in June between the government of President Charles Taylor and rebels attempting to oust him.
Peacekeepers are also charged with opening up a humanitarian corridor from the rebel-held port to allow desperately needed food, fuel and medicine to reach the people of Monrovia. Food is especially scarce in many parts of the city, and diseases are rampant.
Standing in front of one of the city's main bridges on the government held side, thousands of people waving olive branches waited for peacekeepers to arrive. Many said they had not eaten for days and wanted to go to the port where they had heard rice was still being unloaded from ships.
But General Seyeh Sheriff, the commander of the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, which controls the port, tells VOA that the rebels will not hand over the port area to peacekeepers, until President Taylor steps down from office and leaves the country.
RYU: So, you feel something could go wrong still?
SHERIFF: "I don't trust Taylor. Something might happen anytime, anywhere."
Mr. Taylor shunned an emergency session of the parliament, and instead, sent a written note saying, "an international conspiracy" prevented him from governing. The French news agency AFP reports, the parliament, by an overwhelming vote, endorsed Mr. Taylor's decision to step down and hand over power to Vice President Moses Blah.