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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 21:17 GMT 22:17 UK
Liberian joy as peace troops land
Nigerian officer being carried by jubilant Liberians
Now comes the hard work of ending the war
More than 100 West African peacekeepers have received a heroes' welcome after arriving in Liberia with the goal of ending two months of bloody clashes in the capital, Monrovia.

Hundreds of civilians rushed onto the runway of Robertsfield airport, 40km from Monrovia, carrying a Nigerian troop commander shoulder high, shouting "We want peace".

But after a brief lull in the fighting, gunfire was again heard in the Old Bridge area of Monrovia, which leads from the rebel-held port to the city centre, reports the AP news agency.

The advance party of Nigerians is not expected to venture into the war-zone until the full complement of more than 3,000 West African peacekeepers is in place.

I really think that now it will be OK
Jocelyne Doe

The leader of the main rebel group, Sekou Conneh, has said his fighters will withdraw from the capital when the peacekeeping force is established.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has said he will step down as president on 11 August - but it is not clear when or if he is going to take up an offer of asylum in Nigeria.

The US currently has two ships off the coast of Liberia and another one on the way, with about 3,000 marines on board the vessels.

A spokesman for President George Bush said the initial deployment of the west African forces would take several days and the US would continue to be actively involved in aiding that deployment.

But the spokesman again insisted that President Taylor would have to leave the country before US troops arrived.

'Peace at last'

There are high hopes among the Monrovian populace that the soldiers will bring calm to the streets of the capital and allow aid workers to deliver badly needed food, water and medical supplies.

At the airport, Jocelyne Doe said: "I'm very happy and so much moved. I really think that now it will be OK."

FORCE FOR LIBERIA
Liberian President Charles Taylor speaks to the media after meeting with Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas)
First of 1,500 Nigerian troops to start arriving on Monday
2,000 West African troops to follow
UN stabilisation force to be deployed by 1 Oct

Residents of the embattled Monrovia district of West Point had printed t-shirts with the slogan "Thank God for [West African peace force] Ecomil".

On the back was the rather hopeful message: "Peace at last", reports Reuters news agency.

However the force's commander, Brigadier General Festus Okonkwo, said the first contingent would only secure Robertsfield airport and would not venture onto the streets of Monrovia.

The airport is midway between the capital and the second city of Buchanan, where Reuters news agency reported that fighting was continuing on Monday.

Nigeria's chief of army staff, Major General Martin Luther Agwai, told the group on Sunday that, although they had a mandate to defend themselves if attacked, they were not going to Liberia to fight against any of the factions.

Many Liberians want the United States to send troops as well.

Water shortage

Hundreds of civilians have been killed since fighting reached Monrovia in June, as rebel groups made gains after four years of civil war.

Aid agencies have appealed to both government and rebel troops to agree to a humanitarian corridor across the front line so they can get urgent relief supplies to civilians.

Satellite image of Monrovia
Click below to see an interactive aerial image of Monrovia

Hundreds of thousands of people are packed into the city centre, risking their lives if they venture onto the streets to find food and water.

The UN food agency WFP has begun an emergency operation to airlift food aid into the capital, flying in half a metric ton of high-energy biscuits over the weekend.

And 30 tons of British aid - including cholera and rehydration kits, baby clothes and plastic sheeting - have arrived in Monrovia on a plane chartered by Save the Children, the charity says.

President Taylor has been promising to hand over power since 4 June, when a United Nations court in Sierra Leone announced it had indicted him on war crimes charges.

He now says he will leave office on 11 August, but has not said if he plans to go to Nigeria, as previously indicated.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Welsh
"A desperate people can hardly believe their eyes"


Liberian residents at Robertsfield airport
"I'm so glad to receive them"


Colonel Adewale, Nigerian Defence spokesman
"If they are attacked, they have every right to defend themselves"



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