Liberian rebels halted a 10-day bombing blitz yesterday when they called a unilateral ceasefire to allow West African peacekeepers to deploy in Monrovia.
Faith in the rebel promise was weak. They have called four truces in two months and respected none. With their leadership under sustained international pressure, there was fragile hope yesterday's pledge would hold.
After early clashes around Monrovia's contested bridges, the city centre was calm. Civilians emerged from shelters to search for water and food. For the first time in days they did not have to duck bullets.
But by late afternoon the rattle of renewed gunfire rang out, suggesting the respite might be shortlived. On a new front 60 miles to the east, fighting continued. And at talks in the Ghanaian capital Accra, Liberia's negotiator rejected the ceasefire.
Charles Taylor, the President, began an offensive to recapture Buchanan, a port city he earlier lost to the second rebel group.
The ceasefire offer from the main rebel group, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) rebels, was that it would pull back from Monrovia's bridges to the port until a Nigerian-led peacekeeping mission arrives.
Lurd says that once the Nigerians arrive it will retreat another eight miles to the Po River - a concession the US ambassador to Liberia appealed for last Sunday. "We will stop fighting until the peacekeepers arrive, unless attacked by Taylor's forces," LURD leader Sekou Conneh said. In London, Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nigerian President, said his troops could be in Liberia in "a few days".
However the West African mission has been stalled by wrangles over money. The US has pledged $10m (£6m) - enough to pay for just a few days' costs. The US may also contribute troops, although the details remain hazy.
Monrovia's humanitarian crisis deepens. The rebel stranglehold on the port has cut off aid supplies and UN warehouses have been looted. Frederic Bardou of Action against Hunger stood in a feeding centre filled with emaciated infants. "What is the international community wait- ing for? The final disaster? They will just arrive to collect the dead bodies," he said.Reuse content