Originally created 08/07/03

Marine team enters Liberian capital



MONROVIA, Liberia - A team of U.S. Marines landed in Monrovia on Wednesday, flying in on olive-green helicopters that passed almost unnoticed over a ruined city where people are preoccupied with searching for food after weeks of fighting between government and rebel troops.

The seven Americans came to coordinate U.S. logistical support for a steadily building peacekeeping force of West African soldiers at the airport 30 miles from the capital. The force's Nigerian commander said he would have enough troops by today to send some into Monrovia.

The U.S. team flew in from a three-ship Navy group carrying 2,000 Marines off Liberia. President Bush said Wednesday that no larger American force will go ashore until the warlord-turned-president, Charles Taylor, leaves the country.

Repeating a U.S. demand, Mr. Bush declared during his vacation in Crawford, Texas, "We would like Taylor out."

Nigerian officials told The Associated Press the Liberian leader was talking of leaving Aug. 16 or 17 and was holding out for a full airport send-off with pomp and ceremony following his promised resignation Monday.

"An elected president can't leave in a hurry," Mr. Taylor's defense minister, Daniel Chea, told AP.

But the Nigerian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they and others were trying to speed Mr. Taylor's exit.

Mr. Taylor, a Libyan-trained former guerrilla fighter blamed for 14 years of conflict in the country, is pinned up in central Monrovia after a two-month rebel siege.

More than 1,000 civilians have been killed, and hunger and sickness are widespread among the 1.3 million residents and refugees crowding the capital.

In the government-held part of the city, market stalls offered little more than potato greens and chili peppers. Rice, the staple food, was nowhere to be found.

Thousands of civilians streamed out of Monrovia's rebel-held port carrying bags of rice on their heads. Rebels had commandeered shipping containers there and gave out the rice, people said.

"They gave me two persons' share because I helped them carry," said Prince Maxwell, a 22-year-old student.

It was good the Americans had come, but not good enough, many adults said.

"It's too slow and too little," said Thomas Koko, a hotel laundry worker. "People are starving. We can't even see our families on the other side. We need peacekeepers in the port, in our city, now."