LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
Mortar Fire Rocks U.S. Embassy in Liberia
Aired July 21, 2003 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. Embassy rocked by mortar fire, President Bush saying the U.S. is watching the situation there very closely. But it is still unclear whether the White House will be willing to send more troops there any time soon.
White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux standing by in Washington with the very latest on that -- Suzanne, good evening.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paula.
There is a great deal of frustration with White House officials on what is taking place on the ground in Liberia, both with the rebels, as well as the Liberian regime. President Bush earlier today was hosting at his Crawford ranch Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, both of them praising each other for their alliance with the war with Iraq.
But as this violence erupts in Liberia, President Bush coming under increasing international pressure to send U.S. troops. Now, a senior administration official who I spoke with said that the president has not made that determination. He has not signed off on that yet. But, at the same time, he is saying that the administration is going to support West African peacekeepers, or ECOWAS, in some way to help enforce the cease-fire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are working with ECOWAS to determine when they will be prepared to move in the peacekeeper troops that I have said we would be willing to help move in to Liberia. We're monitoring the situation very carefully.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: But not quickly enough for some, particularly in the international community: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling for immediate action to get those troops inside, at the same time, as well as the European Union saying the same.
But sources say that there is really too much confusion on the ground, that this is not a safe situation. We heard from the State Department, Phil Reeker, who is expressing a great deal of frustration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHIL REEKER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We are strongly condemning the rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, for their continued reckless and indiscriminate shelling of Monrovia. They need to think about the plight of the civilian population and the humanitarian workers who are there to alleviate suffering. And this breaking of the cease-fire is something we call on them to end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Now, administration sources say they are waiting for a number of things to happen: first of all, those West African peacekeepers to get ready for their mission to go in, as well as Nigerian battalions to be ready to accept Charles Taylor when he finally leaves the country. And, finally, Paula, of course, that big question: When is it that Charles Taylor is going to step down? -- Paula.
ZAHN: Which is a question everybody is wondering tonight. Thanks so much, Suzanne Malveaux.
Liberia is poised between hope and disaster. Those are the words of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as the world catches a glimpse of the horrific images streaming out of the war-torn nation tonight. The most brutal scene may be just outside the U.S. Embassy compound in Monrovia. It is there that people are stacking mangled bodies, civilians caught in the crossfire of a bloody civil war.
A handful of U.S. Marines arrived in the capital today, but there is great uncertainty as to whether President Bush will dispatch a larger contingent of troops to help bring order to a country in disarray.
Throughout the day, as mortars have fallen, Jeff Koinange has been filing reports from the middle of the devastation. He joins us live on the phone from Monrovia with an update.
Jeffrey, what's the latest from there? Good evening.
JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paula.
I can tell you that fighting seems to have abated, although, once in a while, a bullet does make its way right here where we are. And that is the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy compound. In fact, one landed inside the kitchen about a half an hour ago. Luckily, it didn't hurt anyone. So we do know for a fact fighting is continuing in the street. We also know that Liberians are extremely disappointed that the U.S. has not intervened so far.
They thought that there would be some kind of peacekeeping force on the ground before the rebels took the capital. We know for a fact that the battle zone has changed to the streets of downtown Monrovia. I can also tell you that there are reports of no running water in the capital, very little food, no drinking water. And the hospitals are running very low on medication.
So, the situation, according to a Liberian on the ground, Paula, the situation in Monrovia is totally paralysis on the ground -- Paula. ZAHN: And what is the status of the embassy tonight? We had heard reports earlier today of hundreds and hundreds of people trying to go there for safety.
KOINANGE: That's right. And they did go out there, despite the piled-up bodies outside the embassy gates.
Those people were chanting. After they finished their chanting, about half an hour afterwards, everybody disappeared, kind of walked away from it all. It's like they had gotten tired of chanting. And they all walked away. In the meantime, thousands of displaced Liberians, not wanting to be part of this new onslaught, they just picked up the few belongings they had and headed towards the west of the city, where there is less fighting, so a lot of uncertainty now.
We don't know where the battle lines are. The government is claiming they've pushed the rebels further back. But we cannot confirm that. All we can confirm is, when those mortars were raining down here on the U.S. Embassy compound, that was at least two, three miles away, Paula, so still very fluid on the ground. Cannot exactly tell who is in charge or who is controlling what. All we can tell is that the fighting is still raging -- Paula.
ZAHN: And people are sorry to hear that.
Jeff Koinange, thanks so much.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com