Fighting between rebels determined to topple Taylor and government forces raged despite the announcement that foreign troops would soon move in.

Terrified people scurried for cover as mortar bombs fell around the strategic Old Bridge that leads to the heart of the capital. Hundreds of people have been killed in two weeks of bloodshed in the besieged city where food and water are scarce.

A correspondent for the Reuters news agency saw nine bodies around a house struck by a mortar. Some of the dead seemed to have been shot.

Residents said a mortar bomb crashed into another house, killing a man, a pregnant woman and her unborn child.

"The pregnant woman was hit and the baby came out. We have buried them," resident James Jensen said.

"I'm coming in on Monday and when I come in on Monday it's business."
--Nigerian peacekeeper commander Brigadier-General Festus Okonkwo

A government commander said the rebels attacked government positions in the morning but were driven back.

Regional leaders meet

Meanwhile, West African envoys arrived in Monrovia for talks with President Charles Taylor about his departure from Liberia but were told he had left the capital for another frontline.

Regional leaders want Taylor – a former warlord who is under pressure from the United States to step down, to leave within three days of the peacekeepers' arrival.

An indicted war crimes suspect, Taylor has promised to leave when peacekeepers arrive but has been vague on timing. He has accepted a Nigerian asylum offer.

Washington is pushing for a UN Security Council vote as early as Friday, authorising the West African force to intervene and paving the way for possible US involvement.

The resolution also calls for a UN force to take over by 1 October, a date UN diplomats believe is too soon.

Peacekeepers ready

Senior West African military officials in Monrovia preparing the peacekeepers' arrival said the first 300 Nigerian troops would go in on Monday, as requested by West African leaders.

"I have told them to get the men ready to deploy on Monday. I'm coming in on Monday and when I come in on Monday it's business," Brigadier-General Festus Okonkwo, the Nigerian commander of the peacekeeping force, said in Monrovia.

Liberian President Charles Taylor
has been vague about when he
would resign

Another 476 Nigerian troops equipped with armoured personnel carriers would deploy within nine days and aim to take control of the rebel-held port, the officials said.

Regional bloc ECOWAS plans to put 3,250 men on the ground.

The rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) group reiterated on Friday it was ready to hand over Monrovia's port to the peacekeepers and pull out of the city.

Three West African ministers and the head of ECOWAS flew into Monrovia to meet Taylor but said he had left for the second city of Buchanan -- where control has been unclear since it fell on Monday to a second rebel group known as Model.

ECOWAS executive secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas said the envoys had a new appointment with Taylor on Saturday.

In a television interview, a senior Taylor aide said the president would go as soon as he felt "comfortable" with the peacekeepers' deployment.

Liberian army chief of staff General Benjamin Yeaten meanwhile accused Model of undermining peace moves by launching new attacks in the eastern Nimba County.

"People are saying the war is going badly but I want to assure my men that we should fight until the arrival of the peacekeeping force in order to maintain security in this country and ... our  positions,", he told reporters.

Liberians were jubilant about the 
arrival of peacekeepers

News that foreign peacekeepers had finally been given the green light was greeted with jubilation by Liberians.

"After all these delays there is light and we hope this will be the everlasting peace in Liberia," said George Marshall, a civil aviation officer at Monrovia's airport.

US warships are due to arrive off Liberia by Saturday but no decision has been made on whether to put any of the 2,300 Marines aboard on the ground.

Many Liberians believe the United States has a duty to intervene in a country founded by freed American slaves.

The rebels, Taylor foes in a brutal 1990s civil war in which 200,000 civilians died, control over two-thirds of the country.