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Last Updated: Friday, 15 August, 2003, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Hungry Liberians reunite city
People crossing the bridge in Monrovia
Thousands of people have raced across two bridges in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, desperate to get food from warehouses near the port.

Nigerian peacekeepers had planned to open the Gabriel Tucker and Old Bridges later on Friday but were overwhelmed by the massive crowds.

The bridges had been the front line in the battle for Monrovia but on Thursday, the rebels withdrew, handing control of the port over to the West African Ecomil peacekeeping force, backed up by some 200 US Marines.

Despite the chaos, the first aid ships to arrive in several weeks have docked in the port, carrying some food and plastic sheets for the thousands of Liberians without shelter.

However, the BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Monrovia says the first major food deliveries will not arrive until next week.

There is food here now. I'm very happy
Hamadu Kenneh
Meanwhile, the leader of the main rebel group, Sekou Damate Conneh, has demanded that pro-government militias be withdrawn and Monrovia be made a "gun-free" city.

The Lurd chairman told the BBC's Network Africa programme that if the militias did not pull back within four days, the rebels would "regain our territory".

Plastic bags

Residents of the government-held southern parts of Monrovia had suffered from food shortages for several weeks after the rebels captured the port and the surrounding warehouses of United Nations food.

Why some Liberian fighters wear wigs and carry charms.

Some people were returning from the northern side of the bridges carrying sacks of food on their heads.

"There is food here now. I'm very happy," said Hamadu Kenneh, 40. "No one is complaining about food now."

"I am going to see my parents and friends and get food," said Comfort Tolbert, dashing across with empty plastic bags.

On Thursday, peacekeepers prevented the crowds from crossing the bridges to get food and be reunited with their families and some people drowned crying to swim across the Mesurado River.

There was chaos outside the warehouses as some rebels tried to prevent people from looting food from the port's warehouses.

But as they withdrew towards the River Po, 12 kilometres from central Monrovia, some rebels were seen driving vehicles piled high with bags of food aid.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead says there was "very little" food left in the port after the looting.

Peace deal?

However, the AFP news agency reports that the second city of Buchanan remains divided between rebel- and government-held areas.

General John Garan of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model), a smaller rebel group based in the south-east, accused the government of continuing to stage attacks.


"If they continue to attack us, we will march on Monrovia," he said.

In Ghana, new interim President Moses Blah is due to hold a second day of talks with Liberia's rebel leaders.

They are discussing the allocation of posts in the power-sharing government which is due to take over in October.

Ghana's Foreign Minister Addo Akufo Addo told AFP news agency an agreement could be signed as early as Saturday.

Mr Taylor flew into exile in Nigeria on Monday as part of attempts to end years of conflict.

Lurd rebels have rejected his appointment but say they will respect the ceasefire.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"Monrovia is a city bursting with relief"



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