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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberian Militiamen Enter, Loot Monrovia

MONROVIA -- Gangs of Liberian militiamen blasted their way through gates with rocket-propelled grenades and carried off their spoils in UN vehicles as fighting in the capital turned into a frenzy of looting Thursday.

Residents said sporadic shooting could be heard and there was no sign of West African peacekeeping troops.

The United States diverted the amphibious assault ship Guam from the Adriatic to help evacuate foreign nationals. Residents confined to their homes since fighting erupted Saturday complained food and water were running short.

"There has been widespread looting, it's a fact that some apartments have been looted and some vehicles have been stolen," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Dudley Sims.

Looters who invaded the United Nations Development Program offices Wednesday were still clearing the building Thursday. The UN refugee agency said eight of its vehicles and a power generator had been stolen. "The whole embassy district is vulnerable," said one witness. UN offices, other international agencies, most embassies and diplomatic residences are located in the capital's Mamba Point district.

The center of Monrovia had been relatively untouched by six years of civil war until clashes erupted last Saturday after the coalition government tried to arrest Krahn tribe militia warlord General Roosevelt Johnson on murder charges.

In Freetown, capital of neighboring Sierra Leone, Liberian ambassador Samuel Peters said he had been told there were about 20,000 Liberians at the port in Monrovia hoping to find a ship to take them to Sierra Leone.

U.S. military helicopters have been ferrying foreigners from the U.S. embassy to Freetown or Dakar. Some 470 people, less than half of them Americans, have been evacuated so far.

Major Lewis Boone, spokesman for the evacuation operation in Freetown, told reporters the United States had diverted the amphibious assault ship Guam and two other vessels from the Adriatic to West Africa. He said 500 to 600 Marines would travel with the ships, which could take a week to arrive.

Una Macauley, a British aid worker for Save the Children Fund who was flown out to Freetown, said she had been holed up in an apartment near the U.S. Embassy and had managed to drive over there during a lull in the shooting.

She said the evacuation was well organized. "There was no sense of people panicking to get on flights," she said.

"I believe that there are many foreign nationals who are effectively stuck since they are finding it very difficult to reach the embassy," she said.

The fighting is the most serious threat to a 1995 peace accord signed in Nigeria last August.

Nigeria and Ghana, who have the largest contingents of troops in the ECOMOG force sent to Liberia in 1990, held urgent consultations on Wednesday and pledged their commitment to the regional peacekeeping effort.