Helicopters buzzed the city Saturday, dropping off U.S. Marines to secure the American Embassy, while scores of foreigners trapped in factional fighting were ferried to safety.
The four Navy ships and a supply vessel - USS Guam, Trenton, Portland, Connolly and Big Horn - began turning up off the Liberian coast before dawn, and by 7 a.m. helicopters roared low over the city.
The Marines are replacing American paratroopers - members of the elite Special Operations forces based in Europe - who have been guarding the Embassy for the past week. Of the 1,500 Marines, only about 200 are expected to be on the ground in the U.S. Embassy. The others will remain aboard ship a few miles out to sea.
Evacuations that have carried more than 2,000 people to safety in neighboring Sierra Leone or Senegal, continued Saturday as 78 foreigners, mostly Lebanese and Egyptians trapped for nearly two weeks in a besieged army compound, left.
As African peacekeeping tanks rolled through Monrovia on Saturday morning as part of a new truce, drunken thugs in stolen relief agency vehicles scavenged through the remains of bullet-pocked buildings.
Some guns were still blasting and grenades were still being launched, but most of the firing appeared to be posturing.
A few residents even seized on the Marines’ arrival to try to return to normal life. Fayah Foyah ventured out for the first time in two weeks, setting up his checkerboard. “It seems as though there’s some sanity, so we have to entertain ourselves somehow,” he said with a laugh.
The truce reached Friday night between warlord Roosevelt Johnson and rival Charles Taylor appeared to be holding.
The nearly two-week flare-up to Liberia’s 6-year civil war left 60,000 people homeless and ravaged the seaside capital. Dozens of bloated bodies litter the streets, food and medicine are in short supply, and health officials say that squalid sanitary conditions have led to at least 110 cholera deaths.
The fighting began after a six-man interim government tried to arrest rebel leader Johnson on murder charges related to cease-fire violations. The battle pitted Johnson’s men against those of Taylor, a leading member of the governing council.