MONROVIA, Liberia West African officials flew into this embattled capital Friday to press President Charles Taylor to cede power after peacekeepers arrive, but he avoided them. Hours later, the U.N. Security Council authorized a force to maintain order after Taylor departs.
The U.S.-backed resolution authorizes the multinational force to remain in Liberia for two months, when it will be replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force -- no later than Oct. 1. It makes no mention of U.S. troops participating.
Fighting in Monrovia killed at least 12 civilians earlier Friday, including four children and a pregnant woman. By late Friday afternoon, fighting between Taylor's forces and rebels was reported to be intense around three bridges leading toward downtown.
Taylor's evasion of the top-level delegation sparked rumors he fled the country, but the military and Taylor's spokesman denied it.
The West African leaders were told the warlord-turned-president went to southeastern Buchanan, which would be his first known journey outside Monrovia since a rebel siege began in June.
Taylor sent a message to the delegation saying he will meet with them today.
The delegates hesitated at Liberia's airport under heavy Ghanaian military guard, then traveled into Monrovia ahead of the meeting.
"We're going to wait until we can sit down and talk to him," said Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana's foreign minister.
Taylor's absence delayed delivery of a message from West African heads of state that the first international peacekeepers would deploy Monday in Liberia and that Taylor, an indicted war-crimes suspect blamed for 14 years of conflict in the region, must leave the country by Thursday.