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Last Updated: Friday, 20 June, 2003, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Peace monitors set for Liberia
Ghanaians are repatriated from Monrovia
Crowds desperate for a passage from Monrovia
Ceasefire monitors who will oversee the first phase of the Liberian peace accord are gathering in Ghana, ready to depart for Monrovia on Saturday.

They will to map the precise locations of the various sides in the Liberian conflict and report back to West African mediators by the end of the month.

The monitors will arrive in Liberia amid continuing tension despite the peace agreement signed in Ghana last week, intended to bring an end to four years of war which has spread across the region.

There were chaotic scenes in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, on Thursday when thousands of Ghanaians and Liberians tried to board a ship sent by Ghana to repatriate its nationals.

A West African-led peacekeeping force of at least 2,000 troops is due to oversee the Liberian peace agreement once the locations of the various fighting factions are verified.

US involvement

And the peacekeeping force could be enlarged with forces from outside the region.

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

"We will need to work out how many troops we need from the international contact group, for instance the United States," the chief mediator, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, told the BBC's Network Africa.

"Maybe also we would need troops from outside the west African region, such as from South Africa or Morocco," he said.

Mr Chambas has argued that the US - with its close ties to Liberia - is a natural provider of troops to Liberia, just as Britain has in its former colony Sierra Leone and France has in Ivory Coast.

Up to 800 people were evacuated from Monrovia on Thursday on the ship sent from Ghana.

Security guards fired in the air and used water hose to hold back a crowd of 5,000 people who stormed the ship, saying they were too afraid to stay in Liberia.

Those who scrambled on board carried huge bundles and sacks.

"I have to leave. There is no security for us here," said one man.

'Humanitarian catastrophe'

"We are worn out. We were elbowing each other for hours," said one man who failed to make the journey.

Shops and businesses have been gradually reopening in Monrovia but aid workers say tens of thousands of people are still living in abysmal conditions with very little food available.

George Sla, a militia man fighting for Liberia President Charles Taylor

Alain Kassa, the local head of Medecins sans Frontieres, warned that the food shortage would cause further disaster.

"The humanitarian situation is already catastrophic in Monrovia, especially since people have not been receiving regular supplies of food since March," he told the French news agency AFP.

If more food was not distributed soon there would be "frightening malnutrition", he warned.

The peace agreement gives the Liberian government and the rebels 30 days to design a transitional government that excludes the current President, Charles Taylor.

Stability in Liberia is vital to its neighbours, like Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, which have also found themselves caught up in the fighting in recent years.

President Taylor is blamed by many for much of the instability in the West African region.

He has been accused of gun-running and diamond smuggling and has been indicted for war crimes by a United Nations-backed tribunal in Sierra Leone.

The BBC's Paul Welsh
"The people are hungry for peace"

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