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US Troops Arrive in Liberia - 2003-08-14


About 200 U.S. troops have arrived in the Liberian capital Monrovia to help peacekeepers secure delivery of humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, as they had agreed earlier, Liberian rebels have handed over the capital's port to west African peacekeepers.

U.S. helicopters landed in Monrovia's international airport carrying 200 troops, including a rapid reaction force of 150 Marines. The Marines flew in from U.S. warships that have been patrolling Liberian waters for several days.

The troops will assist regional peacekeepers secure the port so waiting ships loaded with food and medical supplies can dock.

The leading rebel group, in a brief ceremony, handed the control over Monrovia's port to the Nigeria-led peacekeeping force. Since mid-July, the rebels held the port, which is vital for bringing much needed humanitarian supplies into the country. Thousands of Liberian civilians gathered in the port area to witness the rebel withdrawal and the handover. The mood on the streets is one of jubilation as the arrival of peacekeepers is seen as an end to the war.

Monrovia has effectively been split in two in recent weeks, divided between government and rebel forces. Civilians have not been able to move freely between the two halves of the city.

Last minute looting was rife at the port Wednesday as hungry residents stripped containers of any remaining supplies before the handover to peacekeepers.

Aid workers are warning that Liberia poses a massive humanitarian challenge. U.N. envoys say that after 14 years of civil war that culminated in a hard fought battle for the capital, Liberians are starved, vulnerable to disease, and in desperate need of emergency assistance.