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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Mortars Strike U.S. Embassy in Liberia

Aired July 21, 2003 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening to you. Thanks very much for being with us. A lot to cover in this hour.
Violence continues to rock the West African nation of Liberia. That is our top story tonight.

The Pentagon says a three-ship task force carrying 4,500 sailors and Marines is moving closer to the area right now. A group of Marines were sent to the U.S. embassy in Monrovia earlier today, just before mortar shells began hitting the embassy compound.

Now Liberian diplomats say civilians are dying in the hundreds in the fighting between government forces and rebels trying to force President Charles Taylor out of office.

CNN's Jeff Koinange is holed up in the U.S. embassy compound tonight. He can't tell us exactly where he is for obvious security reasons.

Jeff, thanks for joining us. How safe are you and describe us to, if you could, the situation now in the embassy and in the streets of Monrovia right now.

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I can tell you that this is probably the safest place in town to be, this heavily fortified U.S. embassy. Outside the fighting had abated. But once in awhile, a stray bullet makes its way even here where we are. A few minutes ago, one landed in the kitchen area right here in the embassy.

But earlier on today, we're hearing reports, scores dead, hundreds injured as mortar shells rained all across this war-ravaged capital. And it began here, as you mentioned, Anderson.

An elite Marine corps unit known as the FATST, the Fleet Anti- Terrorist Security Team, left Rota (ph), Spain, flew into neighboring Sierra Leone. They got into Black Hawk helicopters and flew here.

Once the Marines got off the choppers and the helicopters flew off, about half an hour later, mortar shells started coming down thick and fast, some of them about 100 yards from where I'm standing now. You could see them dropping into the Atlantic Ocean. One actually landed right here in the embassy compound in the commissary, luckily no injuries.

Across town, it was different. One landed in a building and apparently 18 people were killed in that one. Liberians were outraged. They actually started displaying the bodies of their dead relatives and friends outside the U.S. embassy compound, asking the U.S. to intervene.

At the same time, at the local hospital, mortar shells were raining right around. They had to evacuate patients, taking them deeper into the hospital to a safe area.

As fighting raced throughout the capital, the new battle zone, Anderson, is right here in downtown Monrovia.

COOPER: Jeff, have you heard anything so far from President Charles Taylor? Has he made any kind of statement? Because his status is key to whether or not the U.S. intervenes, according to President Bush.

KOINANGE: his status is key, Anderson. But we haven't heard a thing in a couple of days. The last thing we heard from him was that he was going to fight to the last man.

We're hearing reports that government troops are actually pushing the rebels further back, but we cannot not confirm that. All we can conform is that the mortar shells were raining right up until late afternoon, right in this compound. And you can launch a mortar from about five to six kilometers out. So that's not that far away.

The battle is still raging on, Anderson, as far as we know.

COOPER: Jeff Koinange, stay safe. Thanks very much.

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