Aid agency Action Contre La Faim (ACF - Action Against Hunger) said in a statement it was practically impossible to move around Monrovia to help those injured, secure water supplies or stop the deterioration of food stores.

“With every attack, civilians leave the camps where they have taken refuge. They leave everything they have behind them, they are robbed and it starts all over again,” said Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed within days and thousands more have been displaced. MSF said the four doctors it has working at a makeshift hospital in the capital were unable to move about because of the insecurity. 

Fierce fighting has pitted troops loyal to President Charles Taylor, under international pressure to step down, against rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) who are battling for control of the capital.

Liberia’s Defence Minister Daniel Chea said there was a “very thin line” between government forces and rebel troops.

The capture of the Stockton Creek Bridge would enable rebels to link up with comrades who seized the city’s Atlantic seaport over the weekend.

It would also give them access to the airport on the other side of the city, to the east, while the Johnson and Old Bridges lead into the city centre.

Liberia’s government seemed to soften its stance on how far rebels had to retreat from Monrovia, demanding only they withdraw beyond shelling range instead of to a former truce line.

International dithering

Meanwhile, the international community continues to drag its feet in intervening in the war-ravaged African nation.

"The population is suffering from lack of food, water and access to health care"

Frederic Bardou,
ACF representative in Monrovia

Officials from the United States, United Nations, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Nigeria were due to meet later on Thursday in neighbouring Sierra Leone to discuss plans to deploy Nigerian peacekeepers as soon as possible.

Liberians are unhappy with the slow pace at which the region is coming to their aid but even more with Washington, historically tied to the county founded by freed American slaves in 1847.

So far the United States has promised only to give logistical support to regional peacekeepers.

West African leaders said on Wednesday they would send 1300 Nigerian troops “urgently” but the date of deployment will not be set until next week.