Nigerian Advance Team Arrives in Liberia

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As shells crashed in the distance, an early inspection team arrived in Liberia's capital to plan for a peacekeeping force that will seek to stop a civil war pushing the country toward outright chaos.

The United States asked the U.N. Security Council to authorize what would be a west African-led force, quickly followed with a U.N. force by Oct. 1.

Washington wants a cease-fire in place and President Charles Taylor (search) gone before the troops arrive, but the rebels violated a new cease-fire after just a day Wednesday.

Rebel commanders accused Taylor's forces of provoking fighting with new attacks, and said a cease-fire was impossible under those conditions.

"There is nothing like a cease-fire here," said Kate Wright, a downtown resident who spent a sleepless night cowering in a basement business center with neighbors.

Fighting has killed more than 1,000 civilians in the capital since June.

Nigerian military commanders and other west African and U.S. team members arrived in a Ghanaian military flight to the Liberian capital, where authorities said the team would assess conditions for a peace force promised after rebels opened their attack on the capital in early June.

Greeted by Liberian and American officials, Nigerian Brig. Gen. Festus Okonkwo (search), who would oversee any west African deployment, said that the first peace forces would follow him in days.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said it was "too early" to say whether U.S. Marines, who are nearing Liberia's coast in warships, would take part on the ground.

The Bush administration has promised at least logistical support to what it says must be a West African- and U.N.-led peace effort.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte introduced the draft resolution at a closed security council meeting and made clear the United States wants African nations to lead the multinational force.

"At the moment what we're talking about is providing support ... to bring peace to Liberia and to enable us to deal with this desperate humanitarian situation."

In Monrovia, residents urged rebels to hold their ground until a peace force arrives.

Residents said they fear looting and reprisal attacks on civilians if rebels withdraw from the city ahead of peacekeepers. Taylor's forces, largely unpaid and notorious for abuses, have robbed homes nightly during the two-month siege of the capital.

A rebel commander, Maj. Gen. As Shaeriff, promised the crowd "we'll not move an inch from Monrovia (search) until peacekeepers arrive."

Insurgents have fought a ruinous civil war against Taylor for three years, and took the key port of Buchanan (search) on Monday. He is a Libyan-trained guerrilla fighter who pushed the nation into near-constant conflict in 1989.

Taylor has repeatedly promised to step down, and just as often has backed away from the pledges. On Tuesday, he again hedged on his promise to give up the presidency and leave the country.

West African leaders, taken aback by the surge in fighting and hopeful of more U.S. aid for the multimillion-dollar mission, have yet to deliver on what they have repeatedly described as imminent deployment.

Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century, and had strong strategic ties to the United States during the Cold War.

The 10- to 12-member assessment team will work in Monrovia at least through Friday, West African bloc spokesman Sunny Ugoh said. Two Nigerian battalions, on standby as a vanguard force, will deploy only after the assessment, he said.

Six African countries — Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Benin, Senegal and Togo — have promised 3,250 troops for an eventual 5,000-strong peacekeeping force, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the Economic Community of West African States, the regional bloc arranging the force.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Liberia's neighbors to commit publicly to a date for deployment — and repeated that U.N. funds could be freed to help with the cost.