MONROVIA, Liberia Starving crowds gathered Friday in Liberia's war-divided capital, stuffing leaves into their mouths to quell their hunger as aid agencies pressed for opening of humanitarian routes. Fighting surged in cities outside Monrovia.
Aid groups and U.S. diplomats used a four-day break in fighting in the capital to cross front lines for the first time, with U.S. Embassy workers escorted by West African troops rescuing a 7-year-old American-Liberian girl trapped on the rebel side by fighting.
Embassy workers in bulletproof vests crossed the New Bridge to bring back 7-year-old Shadya, a big-eyed girl in a white dress with a puffy white bow in her hair.
The American-born girl's mother is in the United States; her father is unknown. A 17-year-old sister came along Friday as a guardian.
Asked where she was going, the girl looked up and said, "America."
Asked if she was happy, she looked away, put her hand on a trembling mouth, and shook her head. "Because of my friends," she whispered.
The uneasy truce in the capital held no sway in Buchanan, Liberia's second-largest city, where residents reported fighting that prompted 8,000 civilians to take refuge in a Roman Catholic convent. In the north, rebels claimed to have retaken the town of Gbarnga, former stronghold of President Charles Taylor.
Rebels are driving home a 3-year-old war to oust Taylor, a former warlord blamed for 14 years of near-constant war in Liberia.
Under U.S. and West African pressure, Taylor has pledged to resign Monday and leave Liberia. He named Vice President Moses Blah to complete his term.
Although many ordinary people here expressed doubt that Taylor would ever willingly leave power, or Liberia, diplomats here spoke Friday of Taylor possibly departing as soon as Monday, escorted into exile in Nigeria by fellow West African heads of state.
Taylor's spokesman, Vaani Passawe, confirmed South African President Thabo Mbeki and Ghanaian President John Kufuor were among those expected to attend Taylor's resignation ceremony. Liberian authorities refused comment on how soon after Taylor would leave.
A slowly building West African peace force and Taylor's pledge to step down has largely silenced mortars and rocket barrages in the capital, although chattering steel fusillades of AK-47 fire still burst the calm.
Rebels raced around in pickup trucks on their side of the city, clutching assault rifles, rocket launchers and two prized anti-aircraft guns.