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Great Lakes
Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 21:31 GMT 22:31 UK
Liberian enemies embrace
A rebel and a government fighter shake hands on a bridge
Both sides put down their arms and met on a disputed bridge
Liberian rebel and government fighters have crossed the front line to hug in the capital, Monrovia, as Nigerian peacekeepers have continued to arrive, along with military vehicles.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Monrovia says the unarmed youths, high on drugs, walked from opposite ends of the Gabriel Tucker Bridge to meet in the middle, saying "We want peace".

He says that the city's residents are grateful for the absence of gunfire and the fighting which has devastated the city over the past four weeks.

The peacekeepers have not yet ventured away from Robertsfield airport, some 40km from Monrovia and aid workers say the dire humanitarian situation has not changed.

"When Ecomil (the West African force) arrived, people had very high expectations - people were dancing and singing at the airport - but for the time being they haven't raised the siege," said Jordi Raigh, deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) mission in the city.

Exile beckons

An estimated 250,000 people are living rough in Monrovia and urgently need food, water and medical supplies.

However, the AP news agency reports that deliveries of aid were arriving at the airport, along with the peacekeeping troops.

Nigerian officer being carried by jubilant Liberians
First of 1,500 Nigerian troops arrived on Monday
2,000 West African troops to follow
UN stabilisation force to be deployed by 1 Oct

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has said that Liberia's President Charles Taylor told him in a telephone conversation that he would leave Liberia for Nigeria within a day of standing down on 11 August.

Over the weekend, Mr Taylor said he would stand down in favour of his Vice-President Moses Blah but did not say whether he would take up Nigeria's offer of asylum.

Meanwhile, Liberia has lodged an official complaint with the International Court of Justice at the Hague against the international warrant for his arrest issued by a United Nations-backed court in Sierra Leone for his alleged role in the brutal civil war in that country.

US ships off coast

At the UN in New York, discussions have started between the United Nations and a number of countries that might contribute troops to the peacekeeping operation in Liberia.

Diplomats say India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and South Africa, as well as a number of west African countries, have indicated a willingness to help.

Liberian President Charles Taylor speaks to the media after meeting with Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas)
Click below to see an interactive aerial image of Monrovia

UN troops are due to replace more than 3,000 West African peacekeepers by 1 October.

Liberia has been engulfed in intermittent conflict since President Charles Taylor launched an armed rebellion in 1989.

The latest fighting escalated in June when rebels launched an offensive on Monrovia.

A Security Council resolution approved on Friday gave UN authorisation to a multinational force to help restore peace.

Sekou Conneh, leader of rebel group Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) - has said his fighters will withdraw from the capital when the peacekeeping force is established.

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.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips reports from Monrovia
"Monrovia is still a divided city and it's still a dangerous place"


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