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Last Updated: Friday, 11 July, 2003, 18:30 GMT 19:30 UK
Liberian rebels warn of 'fight'
Liberians welcome team of US military experts, 9 July 03
Many Liberians want the US to send in a force
The main rebel group in Liberia has warned it will confront any international peacekeeping force that is deployed in the country before President Charles Taylor steps down.

The Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) said international peacekeepers would strengthen Mr Taylor's ability to hang on to power.

"Any troops deployed before the departure of Taylor must be prepared for a firefight," a Lurd statement said on Friday.

The US has not yet committed to sending troops, but Mr Taylor has said he will not step down until peacekeepers are deployed.

While a tenuous peace has held for more than two weeks, the UN food agency has warned that hundreds of thousands of displaced Liberians in camps outside the capital continue to be cut off from aid and risk starvation.

Decision 'in days'

The exit of Mr Taylor, who is wanted by a United Nations-backed tribunal for war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone, is seen by the US as a step to restore peace in the country, which has suffered more than a decade of civil war.

President George W Bush, in Africa this week on a five-nation tour, faces growing international pressure to send troops to Liberia, founded by freed American slaves in the 19th Century.

Liberians are desperate for an end to over a decade of conflict

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, travelling with Bush, said a decision was imminent.

American military advisers are in Liberia to gauge security conditions and humanitarian needs. They visited Monrovia's international airport on Friday to determine whether it could be used to bring in aid and other supplies.

Another part of the team was in nearby Ghana to meet officials from the West African regional bloc, Ecowas.

West African nations aim to send an initial contingent of 1,000 troops within the next two weeks and are asking the US to contribute to the force.

President Bush has remained non-committal, saying he will not stretch American forces already heavily involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Humanitarian disaster

Pro-Taylor demonstrations took place outside the US and European missions in Monrovia on Friday, in protest at attacks against Mr Taylor's followers in the capital.

Indicted on war crimes charges
Under UN sanctions
Former warlord
Won 1997 elections

At least four ex-fighters have been seriously assaulted in the past week, members of a veterans association said.

The organisation demanded that war crimes charges against Mr Taylor be dropped.

"If they aren't ...there will be more bloodshed than there has been before," Boby Moore, a 42-year-old army medic told Associated Press news agency.

A ceasefire was signed between rebels and the government on 17 June.

Under the deal, Mr Taylor promised to step down, clearing the way for a transitional government that would oversee fresh elections.

The BBC's Raphael Jeserum
"Charles Taylor is still trying to turn his predicament into political capital"


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