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New Fighting Reported in Liberia as Peacekeepers Begin Deployment - 2003-08-09

While peacekeepers in Liberia have begun deploying in the capital, Monrovia, there are new reports of fighting in other parts of the country. At the same time, aid workers warn that massive humanitarian assistance will be needed to help Liberia out of 14 years of civil war.

Fighting has been reported in Liberia's second city, Buchanan, and in President Charles Taylor's stronghold of Gbarnga, in the north. Rebels have accused President Taylor's forces of launching an attack on their positions 40 kilometers outside Monrovia.

Although a cease-fire has settled over the capital, reporters on the ground say the situation remains tense. Rebel leaders have repeatedly said there will be no lasting peace while Mr. Taylor remains in the country. The president has said he will leave, but the rebels are openly skeptical of his promises.

The Nigerian leader of the first peacekeeping forces that began their deployment in Monrovia this week is awaiting further meetings with rebels.

Military leaders are pushing for the deployment of peacekeepers to rebel-held parts of the city. But so far, the head of the peacekeeping force, General Festus Okonkwo, has been unable to extend his forces beyond government lines.

Rebels hold Monrovia's port, which will be crucial to replenishing the city and the country with much needed food and medical supplies. For the moment, rebel zones have food distributed from stocks at the port, but medical supplies are running out, and rebel soldiers are being operated on without anesthetic.

Doctors in rebel-held territory are reported to have been reduced to setting up a hospital in an abandoned beer factory. There, injured children along with rebel fighters are being treated on a loading dock at the plant.

Meanwhile, hunger is building on the government-held side of Monrovia.

Aid workers are warning that events in Monrovia have been taking attention away from the dire humanitarian situation in the rest of the country.

After 14 years of bloody conflict, Liberia's health facilities and infrastructure have been decimated. Millions have been displaced and the real human cost of the years of conflict very probably will become apparent only once peace is restored to the whole country.