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SLUG: 2-306378 U-S / Liberia Update (L)









INTRO: U-S Secretary of State Colin Powell has welcomed the resignation and exile of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. He says the priority now is dealing with the "desperate" humanitarian needs in the country. V-O-A's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

TEXT: Mr. Powell says the commander of the three-ship U-S Navy task force posted off the Liberian coast will go ashore as early as Tuesday to join West African ECOWAS peacekeepers in talks on opening up the port of Monrovia to international relief shipments.

In comments to reporters here, Mr. Powell said reopening the port, which has been in the hands of Liberian rebel group LURD, would likely not require the deployment U-S troops from the flotilla, but he said they will available if needed:

///Powell actuality///

If the situation remains calm, as it's been for the last few hours, all this should be done in a rather open and peaceful way. And if the cease-fire remains in place, I would not expect any large commitment of U-S forces. It might be as small a requirement as just liaison. But there are unique capabilities with the Marine expeditionary unit that might be useful in assisting to secure and put the port back into operation and let the humanitarian workers get ashore and food come off.

///end act///

About three thousand Marines are aboard the U-S naval task force, which has taken up positions within sight of Monrovia in a message to the warring factions in Liberia not to violate the cease-fire and disrupt aid efforts.

Thus far, the only U-S military personnel to come ashore are members of a small liaison team coordinating logistical support for the ECOWAS peacekeepers.

Echoing earlier comments by U-S spokesmen, Mr. Powell welcomed the "peaceful and constitutional" transfer of power from Charles Taylor to the new Liberian President Moses Blah earlier Monday. He said he hopes all parties to the country's civil war adhere to the cease-fire in order to allow the distribution of relief supplies to begin:

///Powell act two///

There are ships off the coast now carrying humanitarian supplies, and the U-N organizations and other international non-governmental organizations are prepared to swing into action. And this is the time for all of the parties to commit themselves to a cease-fire, commit themselves to peace, and let us begin the task of relieving the suffering that has afflicted the Liberian people for so long.

///end act///

Mr. Powell said the rebels of LURD, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, have promised to hand over the port area.

Officials here say that under an agreement expected to be signed Tuesday, the rebels would relinquish the harbor to peacekeepers and aid workers and pull back to the Po River, about 20 kilometers from Monrovia. (Signed)


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