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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July, 2003, 19:25 GMT 20:25 UK
Shells pound Liberia capital
Crying children
Liberians are desperate for peacekeepers to end the fighting
Liberia's rebels are continuing their assault on the capital, Monrovia, as regional leaders promise to send some 1,300 Nigerian peacekeepers.

A senior official of the Ecowas regional body, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, said the troops - to be redeployed from peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone - would arrive in Monrovia within a week.

The rebels have taken control of the strategic Stockton Creek bridge which links the port to residential areas and shells have also fallen in the city centre.

The BBC's Paul Welsh in Monrovia says hundreds of people have died and thousands have been injured since the rebels launched their latest attack on Saturday.

Our correspondent says news that regional peacekeepers have been promised within a week is being greeted with some scepticism.

Troops were first promised by the West African grouping more than a month ago.

I used to go beg in the streets but now there is nobody outside
James Sando, 18
Polio victim

Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster in Monrovia as they try to help some 250,000 people who have nowhere to live after fleeing to the capital.

In other developments:

  • The Swiss authorities say they have frozen bank accounts with $1.5m in the names of two of Mr Taylor's associates
  • A 4,500-strong US force is prepared for possible deployment to Liberia
  • The second largest rebel group threatens to pull out of peace talks in Ghana in a dispute over vice presidential posts
  • Mr Taylor has again accused the international community of "turning a blind eye" to the Liberian crisis

US finance

Correspondents say that Stockton Creek bridge leads to the northern suburbs and the airport and taking it could allow the rebels to encircle Monrovia.

Fighting is also continuing around the Mamba Point diplomatic quarter, as well as Congo Town, where Mr Taylor lives, according to AFP.

The two battalions of Nigerian troops would be an advance guard of a planned eventual 3,250-strong force, Ecowas says.

Mr Chambas told the BBC that the US has promised $10m to help fund the West African peacekeeping force, an amount he called "a good start".

On Tuesday, President Olusegun Obasanjo of regional power Nigeria said that West African peacekeepers would only be sent if the fighting stopped.

And the US says it is waiting for Liberia's neighbours to "take the lead" in sending troops to Liberia.

Former US envoy to Africa Jesse Jackson has also criticised President George W Bush for not sending troops to Liberia.

"Liberia's been a long time ally, and we are on the verge of betraying Liberia for a second time. The silence of secretary Powell, security chief Rice and Mr Bush is deafening," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

Looted aid

With the roads from central Monrovia to the cemeteries too dangerous to travel, the bodies of those killed in the fighting were being buried on the beaches, reports the AP news agency.

Civilian being buried in waste ground opposite the US embassy

Water, diesel fuel and rice are in short supply, with the port now in rebel hands and the airport closed.

Near the US embassy, vendors are selling food from World Food Programme bags, which they say was looted by fighters from warehouses in the port and then sold on, AP says.

Disabled people have demonstrated outside the US mission, asking for food.

"I used to go beg in the streets but now there is nobody outside," said one demonstrator, James Sando, an 18-year-old polio victim in a woolly blue cap and a wheelchair.

"That is why I came to the embassy, to tell them if they can't give us peace that they must give us food."

Jonathan Paye-Layleh reports for Focus on Africa
"Rebels have pushed their way through the strategic Stockton Bridge..."


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