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3 Civilians Killed in Liberian Mortar Attack - 2003-07-26

More civilian casualties, including at least three dead, have been reported after further shelling in the embattled Liberian capital, Monrovia. As U.S. Marines aboard the USS Iwo Jima headed for Liberian waters, the Liberian defense minister said his government has had no official communication with Washington as to whether U.S. peacekeepers can be expected on the ground.

Monrovia has again awoken to more shelling and yet more civilian casualties. More fatalities were reported Saturday morning after a mortar round struck a crowded building, where civilians were sheltering from the fighting between government and rebel forces.

Liberians have appealed to the United States to send in peacekeeping forces, staging demonstrations and protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia.

As the shelling continues, President Bush ordered U.S. troops to take up positions off the Liberian coast to support the expected deployment of west African peacekeepers in the war-torn country. West African leaders are sending in 1,500 peacekeepers, but they say it could take more than a week for them to deploy.

The Liberian defense minister, Daniel Chea, told VOA Saturday that a U.S. peacekeeping force would be welcomed in Liberia. However, the minister was not happy that Washington had not communicated with his government on the matter.

"No, they have not been in touch with us directly. Last time I spoke to the president [Charles Taylor] we have not had any official communication from the U.S. government," the minister said. "All we have is just off the CNN and the news reports, which I think is not fair, because we still have a government here - a viable one that is still on the ground. All we await is that official notice from the American government of their own desires, so that we can move on. But as it is, we have not received any official notification from the American government. None whatsoever."

Rebel leaders were unavailable immediately for comment.

Meanwhile, aid workers are warning that a humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Monrovia, where food and drinking water is in dangerously short supply.

Saturday was independence day in Liberia, but Mr. Chea confirmed that there would be no special events to mark the occasion this year.

"What a way to celebrate your independence," he said.