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Starving Liberians pin hopes on peace

Food aid is slowly beginning to trickle in to Liberia's ports.
Food aid is slowly beginning to trickle in to Liberia's ports.

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SPECIAL REPORT
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Interactive: The U.S. and Liberia
Profile: Charles Taylor
Fact Sheet: Liberia

MONROVIA, Liberia (CNN) -- Starving and desperate Liberians are hoping that the imminent peace deal in their war-ravaged country will bring urgent relief in the form of food aid.

Mediators are optimistic that a planned peace agreement giving way to an interim government will cement progress toward peace a week after President Charles Taylor stepped down and rebels lifted 10 weeks of siege on the capital Monrovia.

On Sunday rebel forces reached an agreement with U.N. negotiators giving them a role in the transitional government that is to take over in October.

At the talks in Accra, Ghana, rebel groups who had been fighting Taylor's government conceded their demand that they take the positions of president and vice president.

However, they asked for the right to advance candidates for deputy speaker of the legislature, and also want that body slightly enlarged, U.N. officials said.

Earlier rebel leaders and government officials agreed to allow humanitarian aid into all parts of war-torn Liberia adding that they would help guarantee the safety of the aid workers.

Jacques Klein, the top U.N. official for Liberia, called the agreement a "significant step" in helping the nation wracked by civil war.

Humanitarian aid has been trickling into Monrovia, but the humanitarian situation in rural areas is a larger concern, Rich Moseanko of World Vision told CNN. A ship loaded with World Vision supplies was arriving soon from Sierra Leone, he said.

"As the aid comes in, the situation will stabilize," Moseanko said.

That will provide some hope to the 50,000 displaced Liberians who have been forced to make their home in Monrovia's largest stadium.

They say they have not seen any food relief in more than a month.

Aid agencies say supplies should be arriving within a week to 10 days.

Prayers for peace

On Sunday the stadium played host to an open-air church service, with prayers that this latest peace deal might actually hold.

"I'm hungry. We're suffering. No food," said one of the many Liberians who has made the stadium their home.

Many are reduced to eating leaves and insects. Children, with their stomachs protruding, show advanced signs of malnutrition.

Across Monrovia the story is repeated again and again -- families forced from their homes, selling everything they own to pay for food.

"We need not only food, but total peace. They need to stop fighting so we can get back on our feet and work for ourselves -- rather than being spoon-fed by others," Kafa Teah, a 39-year old Baptist preacher and father of eight told the Associated Press.

Aid workers, confident of the improving sense of security on the ground, insist help is on the way.

"I would say within a short matter of time, within seven to 10 days we should see a lot more aid coming in and capacity building up," said Moseanko.

That's little comfort to thousands of starving citizens who have endured so much for so long.

As Liberia takes the first fragile steps towards some kind of normalcy, many are hoping that when the food relief finally does arrive, it will not be a simple case of too little too late.

-- CNN correspondent Jeff Koinange contributed to this report.


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