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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September, 2003, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Peace takes hold in Liberian capital
Rebel fighters in the second city, Buchanan
Fighting continues outside Monrovia
Liberia's nightmare of war is over, the United States ambassador in Monrovia has said, as West African peacekeeping units continue to arrive in the country.

Ambassador John Blaney said the US would continue to support the Nigerian-led peace enforcement mission in Liberia, but he repeated President Bush's pledge to pull US soldiers out of any direct role by 1 October.

Military officials in Liberia say troops from Gambia, who arrived on Monday, are due to be joined on Wednesday by more from Guinea-Bissau and others from Togo and Ghana in coming days.

And in a further sign of confidence in the peace process, Liberian Defence Minister, Daniel Chea, has held talks with a senior official in the Lurd rebel movement, Sekou Fofana - crossing what used to be a bitterly contested frontline in part of the capital, Monrovia.

However, while the ceasefire is holding in the Monrovia area since former President Charles Taylor went into exile on 11 August, there are still reports of fighting in other parts of the country.

Symbolic presence

The West African troops are charged with maintaining peace under a new ceasefire deal between the government and rebels signed two weeks ago, while an interim government prepares to take over in October to pave the way for elections in 2005.

The additional peacekeepers are bringing the West African mission in Liberia, Ecomil, closer to its target strength of 3,250.

US Ambassador John Blaney
US Ambassador Blaney plays a key role in Liberia

Ambassador Blaney said at a press conference that Liberians had a chance of a new future and that with the support of Ecomil, the prospect of a better life was real.

The Americans only have a symbolic presence on the ground in Liberia - some 30 marines liaising with the roughly 2,000 African peace keepers in Liberia.

But the BBC's Mark Doyle in Monrovia say it is a potent symbol and the US plays a significant logistical role.

Most Liberians would want the Americans to stay on longer, our correspondent says.

Mr Blaney said the US was considering playing a longer term role by helping retrain the Liberian army, but he could not say if this would involve troops on the ground.

The United Nations is expected to give a full, tough mandate to the African-led peace keeping force in a few weeks' time, after which a possible 15,000 UN peacekeepers will be sent to Liberia, making it the largest UN peace keeping force in the world.




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