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Last Updated: Monday, 30 June, 2003, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
US urged to join Liberia force
Government troops in Monrovia
A tense calm has returned to Monrovia
West African leaders have called on the United States to send troops to join a multinational peacekeeping force in war-torn Liberia.

The formation of an intervention force is high on the agenda at discussions between the West African regional body, Ecowas, and UN Security Council ambassadors, which are continuing in Ghana.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked the council to put together a peacekeeping force for Liberia, where fighting killed about 500 people last week.

Monrovia is reported to be relatively calm on Monday and the International Committee of the Red Cross says that a plane has arrived, carrying 12 tons of badly needed medical supplies for the surgical teams at JFK hospital in the city.

After days of widespread looting, President Charles Taylor has tried to warned government militias that they will face courts martial if they continue to steal.

Some Liberians have resorted to using dug-out canoes to flee their war-ravaged country.

The BBC's Kate Davenport in south-western Liberia saw 10 boats each carrying up to 100 passengers, desperately fleeing to Ghana.

There was a huge commotion, when hundreds of refugees fought for "places in the canoes, some of them capsizing and causing pandemonium," she said.

Historic links

Ecowas has promised to send a 5,000-strong peace force after the warring sides commit to a lasting ceasefire.

Rebels declared a truce last week after they were repelled from the Liberian capital, Monrovia, by forces loyal to President Charles Taylor, although previous ceasefires have failed to hold.

Ecowas chief Mohammed Ibn Chambas said he hoped America would contribute to the peacekeeping effort.

Government troops in Monrovia

"We need to see the United States at this point rise up to this occasion," he told reporters in Abuja.

America has historic ties to Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves more than 150 years ago.

France and Britain have also urged the United States to lead a multinational force.

Washington, however, has appeared unwilling to send troops to keep the peace.

"The American position has been that there should be no help for a force unless there is a political agreement among Liberians," an unnamed State Department official told Reuters news agency.

Looting

Correspondents say that members of the government militias, who do not receive regular payment for their services, are behind much of the looting which is continuing in the capital, Monrovia.

Mr Taylor has ordered a special army unit to patrol the city's streets.

Refugees in Monrovia
Thousands have fled the fighting

Some aid operations are being hampered because vital equipment and supplies have been stolen.

The BBC's Paul Welsh in Monrovia says there are occasional bursts of gunfire as looters fire into the air or use their weapons to break open locks and doors.

He adds that militiamen are now being paid to guard property from other militiamen, leading to the sight of night watchmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles.

Meanwhile, Mr Annan has warned that the situation should not be allowed to 'spiral out of control' and cause more damage for Liberia, and other countries in the region, especially neighbouring Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.

About one million people, or a third of Liberia's population, were seeking refuge in an already overcrowded Monrovia and nearly all international relief operations have stopped in the capital and most of the country, he said.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Dan Issacs
"This is still early days in the diplomatic process"



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