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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Convoy of U.S. Military Experts in Liberia Blocked From Visiting Refugee Camp

Aired July 8, 2003 - 08:06   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We're continuing to watch the story out of Liberia. A convoy of U.S. military experts sent to that country to assess the humanitarian and security situation apparently blocked earlier today from visiting a refugee camp with tens of thousands that's on the outskirts of Monrovia.
CNN's Jeff Koinange joins us now by telephone with more from there -- what's happening, Jeff?

Why the blockage and armed men apparently on the road there ?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We are part of the convoy right now and it happened about 10 kilometers right out of town, a place called Iron Gate, where there's a military checkpoint run by government troops. The entire convoy stopped because there was spikes in the road and officials from the embassy came out and they started talking to the government soldiers and the government soldiers said stop, I need clearance from on high.

Waited a couple of minutes, clearance didn't come, they said no permission has been granted, you must turn back. So the entire convoy had to turn right around and head back towards the capital.

Now, we're part of the convoy. There are scenes of jubilation in the streets of Monrovia. Tens of thousands of Liberians showing up to show support. They were waving U.S. flags, saying, "George Bush, we love you, George Bush" and "Peace, we want peace. No more war."

In the city itself, a lot of jubilation, lots of crowds, people streaming into the streets. I don't think the humanitarian assessment mission was expecting this kind of a welcome. But it wasn't all good news because of them being turned back. They were heading to a displacement camp about 15 kilometers away where there's 50,000, 60,000 displaced Liberians. They're not able to do that for now. They're returning back to the U.S. Embassy to reevaluate where to go next -- back to you.

HEMMER: Jeff, quickly here, if the mission there isn't assessed, the humanitarian situation, and armed gunmen are blocking their path along the road, how do they carry out this mission at this point?

KOINANGE: Well, that's why they have to go back to the embassy to reevaluate. Maybe they can now visit the stadium, the abandoned schools, the abandoned buildings and wait until they get clearance, either from the government or from whoever they have to get clearance to proceed. I guess it's all about bureaucracy here and the government has to show that they are still in charge, there is still some kind of government in place and that they don't want them just to run around anywhere without asking for permission. I guess it's just all about official bureaucracy. But they have been able to assess a couple of places this morning and they have spoken to non-governmental organizations. They are slowly getting their briefings. But a couple of hiccups here and there -- back to you.

HEMMER: Jeff, thanks.

Jeff Koinange by telephone there traveling along with that U.S. convoy there outside the capital city of Monrovia.

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