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Marines join peace mission in Liberia

A seven-man team of United States Marines flew into Liberia's capital city yesterday, intensifying American involvement in the unfurling West African peace mission.

Three helicopters swept to the US embassy in Monrovia from warships stationed 100 miles offshore, where President George Bush has ordered 2,300 troops to await further orders.

The Marines drove to the city's airport for talks with Brigadier General Festus Okonkwo, the Nigerian commander of a West African peace-keeping mission that started arriving on Monday.

But the US is hesitating about deploying troopsonshore, stressing it will only play a support role, "mainly communications and logistics", to the mission. "There are certain things we cannot provide you with," one American could be heard telling his Nigerian counterparts.

Children craned their necks to see the helicopters land but their parents were growing impatient with promises of help. "We feel downhearted because we love the Americans. But they are dragging their feet," said Aloysius Jetto, a refugee standing opposite the embassy.

Three days into the West African mission, which should swell to 3,250 troops by the end of the month, living conditions are still dire in Monrovia.