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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Rebels May Be Ready To Withdraw From Monrovia

Aired July 24, 2003 - 19:13   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: Moving on now to our other big story tonight, Liberia's capital city, Monrovia, is the scene tonight of fierce gun battles between rebel forces and government troops.
Caught in the crossfire, Liberian citizens fearing for their lives. Some have sought refuge at an American rubber plantation outside the capital. As one man put it, quote, "in one week's time, our brothers and sisters will die."

Joining us on the phone now with details of the fighting is Tom Maslund, the African regional editor for "Newsweek" magazine, one of the few Western journalists remaining in Monrovia.

Tom, thanks for being with us tonight. How bad militarily is the situation on the ground in Monrovia?

TOM MASLUND, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE: Anderson, for the first time, it seems that there are clear signs that the rebels have failed in their efforts to take the capital and are beginning to withdraw.

People who have reached residents of the port area say that the rebels have begun to send women and children who came in behind them back to their old area stronghold, which was behind Clay Junction and that they -- the people, the rebels there have told people that they're getting ready to pull out.

COOPER: Tom, some of the images we are looking at right now, just taken recently, we're seeing bodies being buried literally on the beaches. How bad is the humanitarian situation in Monrovia? I know the population has swelled because so many refugees from the countryside have poured in.

MASLUND: Well, yes, there have been the problems associated with overcrowding and the displacements of large numbers: cholera, severe malnutrition of children. The burials that you saw happened just around the corner from the hotel where most of the press has stayed, a couple of hundred yards from the American embassy, actually.

These are people who had been killed in the most recent flare-up of fighting, especially Monday, when there was a severe mortar barrage right in the area of the American embassy. Some of these people would have been treated at the post, the station of Medicine La Frontiere (ph), which is also in the same area.

COOPER: There has been talk about Nigerian peacekeepers perhaps coming in. They've said it's going to be within a week. No exact date, however. But the big question, what's going to happen to Charles Taylor, will he leave the country? Have you heard anything from Taylor today?

MASLUND: No. Taylor has had nothing more to say today. But his forces, his loyalists have spoken very eloquently for him in stemming this rebel assault.

COOPER: How loyal are they? I mean, I understand you've seen some people being forced to fight. Give us a -- paint a picture for us of the scene on the street, things you've seen.

MASLUND: Yes. It's really quite impressive when you get to the actual area where his forces are deploying.

I saw one man executed for failing to go across a bridge under enemy fire. And these guys are also high on drugs. But probably most important, they are people who have been with Charles Taylor since the early '90s when he started his own drive to power. And they've got nothing to look forward to unless they can maintain some small foothold in the run-up to this peacekeeping operation.

COOPER: Probably many of them started off as child soldiers. They now are probably in their late teens, perhaps even in their 20s.

Tom Maslund, stay safe. Appreciate you joining us from "Newsweek." Thanks very much.

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