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Liberians Gain Access to Food, Missing Relatives - 2003-08-15

The departure of rebels from the port area of Monrovia has allowed tens of thousands of Liberians to seek food and lost relatives.

Tens of thousands of hungry Liberians on Friday broke through peacekeepers' barriers at key bridges in Monrovia. They wanted access to the former rebel zone where food was more plentiful, or to look for family members who had been trapped in another part of the city.

Rebel leaders have withdrawn their fighters to the outskirts of the city. However, residents of Monrovia have told reporters that there are still some rebel fighters within the city's perimeters.

West African peacekeepers supported by several dozen U.S. Marines, guarded the port area Friday, as the first ship carrying supplies docked since the rebels withdrew. The ship was loaded with some high protein biscuits for hungry Liberians, but mainly diesel fuel and other supplies for aid workers.

More aid is to be flown into Liberia through the already secured international airport. The World Food Program has confirmed that more ships full of food and medicines are waiting in the harbors of neighboring countries.

The population of Monrovia swelled in the last weeks of President Taylor's rule, as civilians tried to flee escalating fighting on the outskirts. But once trapped in the city, people struggled to find food.

The rebels relinquished control over the port, their prized territorial possession, on Thursday, after former President Charles Taylor stepped down from office and went into exile in Nigeria.