MONROVIA, LIBERIA, JUNE 10 -- Frank Lloyd didn't begin to cry until his wife, Angeline, and their 10-month-old baby were safely aboard an Air Guinee flight this morning, bound for the neighboring West African nation of Ivory Coast and finally free from the horror that Liberia has become.
The 32-year-old Liberian music instructor waved good-bye as his family ascended the stairway to the Boeing 737. Then he turned, held his face in his hands and walked away from the throngs of passengers boarding the special charter flight for American citizens.
"You must have faith to live. I know that we will be together again one day," said Lloyd, whose daughter, Angie, was born in the United States. "I just hope it happens soon."
A total of 360 American citizens -- about one-fourth of those remaining in this strife-torn country -- left Liberia today aboard three evacuation flights organized by the U.S. State Department.
In a crisis that has seen four American warships and 2,100 Marines stationed off the Liberian coast to protect American lives in case of an emergency here, today's evacuation was by far the biggest and most organized.
According to the U.S. plan, the evacuees were to be transferred to a jumbo jet upon their arrival in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast capital, and to depart for Charleston, S.C., late today.
Ironically, the evacuation came at a time when hopes for peace in Liberia have been raised slightly by an agreement between the government of President Samuel K. Doe and rebels of the National Patriotic Front to discuss a settlement. Preliminary peace talks are to begin Monday in Freetown, the capital of neighboring Sierra Leone.
As forces from the two sides continue to clash in skirmishes as close as 35 miles from the capital, it is uncertain how or if these tentative talks may calm a situation that finds the antagonists widely divided on many issues.
Rebel leader Charles Taylor, a Liberian fugitive from an embezzlement charge who has declined a cease-fire offered by the government, has been demanding that Doe and his top military and political aides resign before he will even consider a settlement. That demand has been consistently rejected by Doe, whose government is widely viewed as among the most corrupt in Africa.
Indeed, in a nasty war in which opportunism and tribal passions appear to override any political or ideological beliefs, a reasoned peace may prove as elusive and fragile as the violence here is wanton and random.
Today, on an overpass known as St. Paul Bridge on the south side of Monrovia, the body of a large, barefoot man lay rotting in the middle of the road for hours. Half of the man's skull was missing, and his blood and brains were splattered on the pavement. He had apparently been shot to death by a high-powered bullet to the back of his head.
Yet throughout the day, fearful pedestrians and motorists made their way around the body, as if it were little more than a construction detour. No one -- neither officials nor civilians -- seemed to want to do anything about it. At some point a thoughtful soul placed a white sheet over the chest of the corpse. Later, a few soldiers appeared on the scene for a while to look it over.
"We have knowledge of that body," said a woman who answered the telephone today at Monrovia police headquarters. "We will send a car, I think." Late this afternoon the body was still there.
This was not far from the city market, where another man's body was seen near a vegetable stall today. It was unclear how the man had died, but a passerby said the fly-ridden corpse had been lying there in the heat "for about two days."
Monrovia, in short, seems a sad and cynical city, the capital of a nation that appears to be a good place to leave these days, regardless of any peace talks.
The passengers who flew to Abidjan this morning gathered at a Monrovia school an hour after dawn amid a welter of suitcases and other belongings and traveled to the city's Spriggs Payne Airport in yellow buses. Most of the passengers were Liberian-Americans who are torn between their two national identities.
"I came to Liberia four weeks ago to see my mother for the first time. I was raised by my father in America," said Foudiya Henri, a Silver Spring, Md., data programmer who was returning with her two children. "I wish I could have done more. I only saw her a couple of times because gas is so hard to get here and she lives in the country. . . . You have to be optimistic but life is so hard in Liberia. I'm just glad I'm going home."
Frank Lloyd's story seemed typical of the personal conflict many of these families have suffered as they have sought refuge from the war. He and his wife are Liberian nationals, but their daughter, Angie, is an American citizen, born in Rhode Island during a vacation last summer.
His wife was allowed by U.S. officials to escort the child back to Rhode Island, where the two will stay with friends. But because Lloyd is a Liberian national, he must remain, uncertain how long the family's separation will last.
"I'm not upset about it really. I'm very grateful there is a safe place for my baby to go," said Lloyd, who teaches music for the Ministry of Education. "But this is my country. I will stay to make it better."
A few minutes later he reached out to hold his child. "I love you, Angie," he said, standing on the airport tarmac as he hugged and kissed her for the last time. "Daddy see you soon."
The Associated Press reported the following from Monrovia:
Rebels won control of Liberia's international airport, witnesses said. The airport had already been closed for a week by fighting. Witnesses said the rebels had taken Smell-No-Taste, a village with a small army garrison a few hundred yards from the runway, putting the airport under their control.
The village's name dates back to World War II, when U.S. soldiers were camped at the airport and villagers nearby could smell their cooking but never tasted it.