Nigerian troops have begun arriving in Liberia at the start of a peacekeeping mission to stabilize the war-weary nation.
The first wave of peacekeepers flew in on U-N helicopters that landed throughout the day at Robertsfield International Airport, outside the capital, Monrovia.
They were greeted in the pouring rain by hundreds of Liberian civilians. One Nigerian soldier was hoisted above the crowd, with people chanting, "No more war."
More than three-thousand soldiers will deploy to Liberia in an operation led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The force will also include troops from Ghana, Mali, Benin and Togo. It is to be replaced by a larger U-N peacekeeping mission in October. Two U-S amphibious assault ships with more than two-thousand Marines aboard are now stationed off the coast of Liberia. The Bush administration has not said whether the Marines will go ashore.
The peacekeeping operation is aimed at enforcing a cease-fire and facilitating the delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance. The peacekeepers' first job is to secure the airport. They are not expected to arrive in Monrovia itself for a few days.
Both the government and its rebel enemies welcomed the arrival of the first peacekeepers. The rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy said it will withdraw its forces from Monrovia as soon as peacekeepers enter the city.
The arrival of the troops also brought some peace for the first time in weeks to Monrovia's residents. No fighting has been reported in the capital, under siege by rebel fighters since June.
However, forces loyal to President Charles Taylor and a second, smaller band of rebels continued their battles in the second city Buchanan.