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LURD Rebels Agree to Withdraw from Monrovia Port - 2003-08-12

The U.S. ambassador to Liberia has announced that the main rebel group has agreed to withdraw from Monrovia's port to enable vital food and medical supplies to be shipped into the beleaguered capital.

After a special meeting Tuesday, Ambassador John Blaney announced that rebel leaders had agreed to withdraw from central Monrovia, including the Freeport area.

Mr. Blaney said that the leaders of the main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD, have agreed to leave the port by 12:00 noon on Thursday.

"Our leadership have capable men, well-educated, well-political minded," said Sekoh Fofana, LURD's deputy secretary general for civil affairs. "They can serve as head of the interim government until general elections can be held."

The port is the rebels' prize possession. They had previously refused to hand it over to peacekeepers until Charles Taylor left the country, which he did on Monday. Peacekeepers want to secure the port to enable shipments of desperately needed food and medical supplies to come into the country.

Under this latest agreement, the rebels pledged to pull back to the Po River Bridge which is beyond the outskirts of the city. However, no time frame was given for their withdrawal.

Peacekeeping forces began arriving in Liberia last week, though they have yet to deploy throughout the capital. Winston Monboe, a Liberian journalist, told VOA on Tuesday that the peacekeepers have yet to become a visible presence on the streets of Monrovia, even in government-held parts of the city. After 14 years of civil war and intense fighting in and around the capital Monrovia in recent weeks, basic food and medical provisions have all but run out. Any food that is available is mostly priced beyond the reach of most Liberians.

Elsewhere in the country, Mr. Taylor's exit has not been met with calm. In the south and east of Liberia there are reports of renewed fighting by a second rebel group. More refugees are on the move in that part of the country, carrying what they can through the heavy seasonal rains to escape yet more fighting and bloodshed.