Taylor was due to meet with representatives of Nigeria, Togo and Ghana, as well as the regional ECOWAS grouping, to discuss the deployment of peacekeepers in the war-torn country and his own departure.

The group first tried to meet Taylor on Friday but he was touring frontline positions in the southeast where heavy fighting continues between government forces and rebels.

Fighting continues

Defence Minister Daniel Chea said civilian casualties were high in Buchanan, a strategic southeastern port seized on Monday by Model, one of two rebel groups battling to overthrow Taylor.

"There is serious fighting in Buchanan. The guys (rebels) are in Buchanan and we are fighting. We are trying to move them from there," Chea told reporters in the capital Monrovia.

A Buchanan resident told Reuters by phone that the city was being hit by shellfire, but he did not know who was shooting.

UN resolution

The United Nations Security Council cleared the way on Friday for a much-delayed multi-national force to enforce a ceasefire in Liberia so the West African nation's bloody civil war can be ended and humanitarian aid rushed in.

 

With an initial force of Nigerian troops expected to arrive in Liberia on Monday, the resolution lays the groundwork for an African force as well as US involvement.

 

But it does not spell out what role, if any, US Marines would play.

 

The resolution also says it is critical for Charles Taylor, who has been indicted by a Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal, to leave the country.

 

Abstentions

   

Friday's vote in the 15-nation council was marred by three abstentions.

 

France, Germany and Mexico said they could not support the United States-drafted resolution because Washington insisted on language allowing any crimes committed by peacekeepers to be prosecuted only by the peacekeepers' own governments.

 

The countries object to a provision that gives the multinational peacekeepers immunity from prosecution by anyone -- including the new International Criminal Court -- but their own governments.

 

"Now that this resolution is passed, I hope we will move ahead with urgent and determined action to help the Liberian people." 

--UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Asked whether US President George W. Bush would deploy on Liberian soil the Marines heading for waters off Liberia, US Ambassador John Negroponte said this was for Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to decide.

   

"The US will do its part to support this endeavour," Negroponte said.

   

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he hoped the vote "implies a new political will, a will that I think has been absent among the international community. But now that this resolution is passed, I hope we will move ahead with urgent and determined action to help the Liberian people." 

   

On the three abstentions, Annan responded, "Frankly, my sentiments are with those countries that abstained."    

 

Annan first asked for the force more than a month ago. In the absence of a quicker response, the civil war has raged on and hundreds have died.