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Foreigners evacuated from Liberian capital

Refugees pour into Monrovia to escape rebels

French troops defend a group of evacuees inside the EU compund in Monrovia.
French troops defend a group of evacuees inside the EU compund in Monrovia.

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The airlift begins as rebels attack. CNN's Jeff Koinange reports (June 9)
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MONROVIA, Liberia (CNN) -- U.S. and French Special Forces evacuated non-Liberian nationals from the country's capital as rebels intent on overthrowing President Charles Taylor pounded the city with mortar fire.

Nearly 500 people, including about 100 Americans, were evacuated Monday by French helicopters from the U.S. Embassy and a European Union compound to a French ship off the Liberian coast. The ship will take the evacuees to Abidjan in neighboring Ivory Coast.

Representatives of humanitarian and aid agencies complained that they had been forced to shut down operations because of the danger.

Thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting continued to pour into Monrovia as night fell Monday. Many brought reports of rebels torturing and killing residents in the countryside.

More than 12,000 displaced Liberians crowded into the city's football stadium Monday evening, where 5,000 had been Sunday night and where water and food are not available.

Heavy mortar fire could be heard five miles outside the city Monday night as government forces engaged the advancing rebels.

Over the weekend, rebels crossed a strategic bridge and entered the city, but Liberian troops pushed them back.

The rebels have given Taylor 72 hours to vacate the presidency. Taylor has said he is willing to step down, but not at gunpoint.

Peace talks between Taylor's government and the rebels are under way in Ghana, but so far, negotiators have not been able to agree on a cease-fire.

Taylor was seen driving himself around the city Monday evening in an effort to assure Liberians that he is literally in the driver's seat as the rebels try to advance into the capital.

U.N. says child soldiers fighting

The fighting prompted U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to hold an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Monday.

Annan issued a statement saying he is "alarmed at the severe impact which intensified fighting between rebels and government forces in Liberia is having" on Monrovia's 1 million inhabitants.

The clashes have caused the estimated 100,000 displaced people living in camps on Monrovia's western outskirts to flee, Annan added.

Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said the closed Security Council meeting had called for an immediate end to hostilities and the chance for the peace talks to proceed.

"I was authorized to say we are deeply concerned about the developments in Liberia," Lavrov said. "We appeal to the international community to provide humanitarian assistance."

The Security Council also reminded the warring parties of their responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions.

UNICEF expressed concern Monday about children caught up in the war. The United Nations said child soldiers are at the forefront of the fighting.

The 29 international U.N. staff members were among those ferried out of the country to the French ship.

An indictment against Taylor, issued by a U.N. war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone, was unsealed last week when Taylor was in Ghana for the peace talks. He returned home, saying he had to defend his people from the rebel advance.

The peace talks between rebels and government officials are expected to begin formally Wednesday with the arrival of one rebel group contingent, according to the United Nations. Annan has a representative at those talks.

-- From CNN Lagos bureau chief Jeff Koinange and senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth.

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