Expatriates flown out of Liberia

French Special Forces began airlifting hundreds of foreigners out of the war-town Liberian capital of Monrovia on Monday as rebels pushed nearer to the heart of the city.

Foreigners at the US embassy get
ready to leave Monrovia

Between 300 and 500 foreigners and United Nations staff are expected to be evacuated from Monrovia.

They include Europeans, Americans, Lebanese, Egyptians, Ivorians and Indians. 

Military helicopters evacuated Americans and Europeans from the besieged capital, ferrying the Westerners out of embassy compounds to a French ship waiting in the Atlantic.

Aid agency workers were also being evacuated. Foreign staff of the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) and UN agencies would leave, said David Parker, acting head of the European Union mission in Liberia.

The EU operates water plants for the war-ravaged city of one million people, now flooded with refugees. It would try to keep a core staff in Monrovia as long as possible, said Parker.

Lebanese families, who make up much of the merchant class of West Africa, were also expected to be flown out from the European compound.

French soldiers took up positions at the heliport within the US embassy.

The international non-government organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres said it would leave a team behind.

Thousands of civilians have flooded
the city in search of safety

Some Liberians crowded outside the Western embassies, watching the evacuation with curiosity and fear.

Fighting continues

Military sources said the main rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) launched a dawn attack on the city, despite promises to halt fighting “on humanitarian grounds”.

LURD negotiators in Ghana for peace talks aimed at ending 14 years of conflict declined to comment.

LURD is fighting for the removal of Liberian President Charles Taylor. On Sunday the rebels gave Taylor, who is under mounting pressure to step down, 72-hours to resign.

Peace talks for Monrovia were pushed back for another two days on Monday, as the political wing of a rebel group failed to turn up in Ghana, said a senior West African official.

The talks were deferred until Wednesday morning, as the newly emerged Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) rebel group failed to send its political leaders.

Thousands of civilians fleeing the fighting, huddled outside the city’s main soccer stadium after wandering the streets for days in search of shelter, food nad water.

Many fear a repeat of the bloodshed during the 1990s, when tens of thousands of people were killed in the capital.

Taylor has few friends in the international community. Last week he was indicted by a UN-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone. The court charged him with crimes committed during the country’s 11-year-civil war, in which about 250,000 people were killed.

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