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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Americans Evacuated from Liberian Embassy

Aired July 23, 2003 - 19:16   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Desperation fueled by the heavy fighting continues to grow in the Liberian capital in Monrovia. It's another developing story this hour.
Terrified residents continue their call for the U.S. to send in troops to stop the fighting, stop the bloodshed.

Rebels encircled the city today, moving in on the airport, strategically in a very important location. At the same time U.S. helicopters moved in bringing more Marines in to guard the U.S. embassy and taking something evacuees out. You're seeing the pictures right there.

One of those evacuees was CNN's Jeff Koinange, who has been holed up in the American embassy compound. He joins us now on the phone, live in Akra, Ghana.

Jeff, what can you tell us about what happened today?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson I can tell you it's being described as a seesaw battle for Monrovia on this fifth day of heavy fighting.

Rebels fighting around an area known as the Stockton Creek Bridge. Now this is very strategic because this road leads around a swamp that surrounds the entire city of Monrovia. If they're able to secure that road, it leads, like you said, towards the airport and would literally cut off that road and choke off the city.

They do control a part of the two key bridges in the lower part of town. As they control this key part, they will completely choke off the city.

Now we're hearing the death toll, Anderson, has gone up to over a thousand. The fighting still rages, even though government troops say they are pushing the rebels back. The fighting is very, very heavy. A quote from one of the generals on the government side, he says, "This is a battle for survival."

So right now, even as we speak fighting, continues. As you mentioned the 20 Marines that were remaining as part of this fleet anti-terrorist security team, or FAST, arrived this afternoon to secure, you know, their role. Primary role is to secure the embassy and prepare for more possible evacuations.

On this day, the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, said they were closer to deploying troops to the region, Anderson, but we're talking not days but maybe at most, maybe, a week away.

Two Nigerian battalions are ready to move in comprising about 3,250 men. They ready to move any time the word is given.

I can also add that in the Mediterranean Sea right now are three naval ships containing about 2,000 Marines and 2,500 sailors. They are waiting on standby to hear whether Washington will or will not deploy.

So all these developments happening on this fifth day, even as residents continue to flee.

You should have seen the road to the airport, Anderson. It was unbelievable. People trekking for miles on end. Carrying the little possessions they have on their heads. Little children running after their mothers on this cold, wet and windy day. It was literally an exodus like a scene out of the Bible. People literally walking for miles on end, not knowing where they're going. Just to be away from the raging battle, Anderson.

COOPER: Also, I've read reports about some health aid workers who can no longer bury people in the cemetery. Actually literally on the beaches now, burying people in sand.

You say it's going to be a week, perhaps, before Nigerian peacekeepers can get there. Who knows what will happen by that time.

Jeff Koinange reporting from Akra, Ghana, appreciate it. Thank you very much. Stay safe.

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