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W. African Ministers Negotiating Departure of Liberian President

West African representatives are in Liberia to negotiate the exit of President Charles Taylor. West African leaders say they want him out of Liberia three days after peacekeepers arrive, which is scheduled for Monday.

The executive secretary of the regional group ECOWAS, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, and officials from several member countries landed in Monrovia Friday, where they have met with the U.S. Ambassador and the Nigerian commander of a planned peacekeeping force.

The delegation was told it would not be able to meet with President Taylor on Friday because he was out of the city.

According to Mr. Chambas, the group's mission is to work with President Taylor to make arrangements for his departure from power and from the country.

President Taylor has previously agreed to leave the country when a peacekeeping force is in place. Officials of his government have confirmed that, but say he may not meet the West African leaders' timetable. Many Liberians, particularly rebel leaders, are openly skeptical of Mr. Taylor's assurances.

Nigeria, as the region's main power, is providing the bulk of the peacekeeping force and has also offered Mr. Taylor asylum.

Also on the visiting ministers' agenda is laying the groundwork for the arrival of the first 1,500 Nigerian peacekeepers on Monday. A military planning team is already in Monrovia. When fully deployed the team should involve more than three thousand soldiers from several West African countries.

The United States is expected to provide logistical support.

Mr. Chambas said one of the key things that must be done by Monday is to secure the international airport for the arrival of the first peacekeeping forces.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting was reported Friday near key bridges leading into the center of Monrovia. Nine civilians are reported dead in the latest fighting. Reports say several children are among the dead.