INTERNATIONAL

Food, water shortages in Liberia

Nairobi Aug 10. Liberians continued to suffer widespread shortages of food and water today, one day before the President, Charles Taylor's scheduled departure for Nigeria and an exile many hope will bring peace to the war-torn West African nation.

However, both rebel and loyalist spokesmen at the weekend warned of continued violence, with rebels objecting to Mr. Taylor's hand-picked successor. A Government spokesman said loyalists could continue fighting rather than subject their fate to a weak government transition team.

That team is to be headed by Mr. Moses Blah, Vice-President in the Taylor Government.

West African negotiators in Accra, Ghana, have promised the Blah transition rule would last only until arrangements can be made to select an interim president, possibly only days.

However the peace process unfolding in Ghana under the management of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is backed in Liberia by only a few hundred Nigerian troops, a force that is supposed to expand to a less than overwhelming 3,250 peacekeepers.

The U.S., with 2,000 Marines in ships offshore, has committed only a handful of soldiers to assist the Nigerians with logistics. Relief agencies continue to demand improved security amid warnings of a growing humanitarian catastrophe.

Michael Kpakala Francis, Archbishop of Monrovia, today warned that residents and refugees in Liberia's second largest city, the port of Buchanan, have been cut off. ``The people there have no food and no medicine'', Archbishop Francis told the British broadcaster BBC.

Eight thousand people have taken refuge on the grounds of the Catholic mission in Buchanan, he said.

Liberian government officials said the shaky ceasefire was not being honoured by rebels outside of the capital. Fighting was said to be continuing in the northern town of Gbarnga, but independent confirmation was not possible.

Concentration of relief agencies around the capital also has eliminated one important source of information on how inhabitants are coping outside of major population areas.

As many as 450,000 refugees have swelled the population of the capital Monrovia to around 1.3 million inhabitants, who are receiving sporadic deliveries from relief agencies.

Rebels in control of the Monrovian port continue to resist pressure to allow access to what relief officials say are urgently needed supplies of food and medicine. The U.N. has resorted to airlifting supplies to Monrovia, unable to dock a chartered supply ship. Mr. Taylor, whose departure has been demanded by most involved parties, has submitted a letter of resignation to the National Assembly. His departure has been announced for one minute before noon tomorrow.

DPA