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Aid Agencies Gear Up for Massive Liberian Relief Operation - 2003-08-13


International aid agencies are gearing up to launch a massive relief operation in Liberia, following the pledge by the main rebel group to vacate the main port in Monrovia. But elsewhere in Liberia, fighting continues between government forces and another rebel group.

The U.N. World Food Program says it has a supply ship off the coast of Liberia, ready to deliver food and medical supplies to Monrovia as soon as rebels withdraw from the port.

In a meeting with the U.S. ambassador Tuesday, rebel leaders promised to hand the port over to the West African peacekeeping force by noon, local time, Thursday.

The population of Monrovia swelled in the last weeks of President Charles Taylor's rule, as civilians tried to flee escalating fighting on the outskirts. But people are struggling to find food, and the few clinics operating have minimal supplies.

The U.S. government has indicated that it will send a limited number of Marines to Liberia to assist with the humanitarian aid effort. Logistics and engineering experts are likely to be on the team that will be drawn from the Marines currently stationed off Liberian waters on three U.S. Navy ships.

Liberia is at the end of its rainy season. Torrential tropical downpours are hindering the relief operation and making living conditions more difficult for the tens of thousands of people who have taken temporary shelter in Monrovia.

A nervous calm has settled over the capital, but elsewhere the fighting goes on. In the south and east of the country, the rebel group called MODEL continues to clash with government forces.

New Liberian President Moses Blah has appealed to rebels to work with him for peace in the country. But rebel leaders say Mr. Blah is no better then his predecessor and they want a new government installed to plan elections.