US readies 'peacekeepers' for Liberia

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Sat Jul 5 13:40:15 MDT 2003

Bush deploys military experts to West Africa

Liberian leader weighs exile

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Associated Press

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- President Bush is sending
military experts to Africa to assess whether U.S. troops should help
enforce a fragile cease-fire in war-torn Liberia. He was considering a
conditional offer by the country's leader to step down.

Bush said American officials were discussing the makeup of a
peacekeeping force with the 15-country Economic Community of West
African States.

"We are talking to ECOWAS countries right now to determine what the
nature of a peacekeeping force might look like," Bush told CNN's
"Inside Africa" yesterday.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, speaking to reporters
traveling with the president to Ohio for Fourth of July celebrations,
announced that Bush was sending a team of military experts to the

The Bush administration has strongly suggested that President Charles
Taylor's departure would be a prerequisite for a U.S. role in an
international peacekeeping force in Liberia.

Taylor, speaking in Liberia's capital of Monrovia, said he would leave
only if a peacekeeping force is deployed.

"I don't understand why the United States government would insist that
I be absent before its soldiers arrive," Taylor told a meeting of
Liberian clerics yesterday. "It makes a lot of sense for peacekeepers
to arrive in this city before I transit."

The White House appeared skeptical of any conditions put forward by

"The president encourages Taylor to back up his encouraging words with
deeds," Fleischer said later in the day. If his offer is real,
Fleischer said, "the exact timing will be developed in due course."

Taylor offered a chilling warning to opponents, saying his forces were
still "capable of carrying out havoc in the city."

Bush said Taylor's departure is crucial to establishing a stable,
hopeful future for the West African nation suffering from years of
bloody civil war.

"One thing has to happen, that is Mr. Taylor has to leave," he told
CNN, and he was confident Taylor would go peacefully: "I am convinced
that he will listen, and make the decision, the right decision, if he
cares about his country."

Secretary of State Colin Powell is consulting with U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan and African governments over how and when
Taylor may step down.

Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday discussed with Taylor
a Nigerian offer of temporary asylum if he leaves office, said
Obasanjo's spokeswoman, Remi Oyo. No decision was made during the
phone conversation, Oyo said.

Taylor "is still in Monrovia. He's not coming immediately, but Nigeria
is a friendly country," Oyo said. "There is a possibility he will

Taylor, a one-time warlord who launched Liberia's 1989-1996 civil war,
was elected Liberia's leader in 1997. Two years later, the country's
main rebel movement took up arms against his government in fighting
that has forced one-third of Liberia's 3 million people from their

Last month, a U.N.-backed war crimes court in neighboring Sierra Leone
indicted the Liberian leader for gun trafficking and supporting Sierra
Leone rebels during their vicious 10-year terror campaign.

Also last month, Taylor's government signed a cease-fire deal with the
insurgents that commits the Liberian leader to quit power. He
subsequently refused.

Heavy fighting in June had rebel forces bearing down on Monrovia,
Taylor's stronghold. With hundreds dead and thousands of villagers
pouring into the city to flee the violence, Annan, France and Britain
called for a peacekeeping force, preferably led by Americans. ECOWAS
has pledged 3,000 troops, and African leaders have suggested that the
United States send in another 2,000 troops.

Military officials already have been involved in limited regional
talks, but the new team would take that effort a step further to a
broader group of nations and officials, Fleischer said. Fleischer
referred to the Pentagon all questions about the team's makeup, when
it would arrive and how long its work would take.

Information that the White House gets from the assessment team will
help Bush decide whether to commit troops -- and how many if he
does -- to Liberia, he said.

Fleischer said Bush was not bound to decide by "the artificial
deadline" of his Monday departure for a weeklong trip to sub-Saharan
Africa, although many Africans had hoped for a decision by then.

Top Bush advisers have insisted that U.S. forces could handle an
additional mission, and Bush has cited the "special, historical" ties
with Liberia, a nation founded in the 19th century by freed American
slaves. Also cited is the need to keep "failed states" from becoming
hotbeds for terrorist recruitment.

The U.S. military commander in Europe, Gen. James Jones, has been
ordered to begin planning for possible American intervention. Options
on the table range from sending no troops to sending thousands,
defense officials said.

Also yesterday, the World Health Organization appealed for urgent
international assistance for Monrovia's 97,000 refugees coping with
dirty water, dwindling food stores and lack of adequate medical care.
Those refugees are plagued by hunger, disease and the looting, often
committed by drunken fighters loyal to Taylor.

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