US warships arrived off Liberia to buttress peacemaking efforts today as the stutter of gunfire underscored the task facing a West African force trying to end 14 years of murder and mayhem. The United States has yet to decide whether to commit ground troops to a land founded by freed American slaves more than 150 years ago, where hundreds of thousands of people face hunger and disease.
A senior US defence official said the USS Iwo Jima, the helicopter carrier, was near the coast along with the USS Carter Hall. The USS Nashville is expected within days. The ships are carrying about 2300 US marines. The US official said that among the possibilities being discussed for US involvement in Liberia was to use the ships to help the new West African peacekeeping force with communications and logistics.
Nigerian troops welcomed in Liberia
About 200 Nigerian soldiers flew into the airport near Monrovia, triggering celebrations on both sides of a front line through a city where around 2000 have died in three rebel attacks since June. The hope is that the peacekeepers will be able to keep the rebels and President Charles Taylor’s forces apart, open routes for desperately needed aid and allow Taylor to step down and go in to exile.
Festus Okonkwo, the Nigerian force commander, said his men would need a few days before embarking on street patrols and about a week before they could move to the rebel held port. “There is fighting going on, but that will not stop us from deploying,” Okonkwo said.
While both sides have welcomed the deployment, the gunfire between the opposing forces has never stopped. Front lines on three key bridges in the swamp bound city have shifted little as the death toll has climbed. Aid agencies keep trying to organise convoys across the front line to stem the growing humanitarian disaster, but have yet to get a simultaneous green light from both sides during a lull in fighting.
Taylors enemies doubt his promises
Taylor’s enemies know him as a cunning survivor and fear he will find some way of reneging on his promise to resign on August 11 and then leave the country, a departure for which no date has yet been set. Indicted for war crimes by a UN-backed court in Sierra Leone and ordered to leave by US President George W. Bush, Taylor has accepted an offer of asylum from Nigeria. His spokesperson said preparations for the move were continuing.
Taylor emerged as the dominant warlord from a conflict that left 200 000 people dead in the 1990s before winning elections in 1997. He is accused of spreading war into all Liberia’s neighbours. “The resignation and departure from Liberia of President Charles Taylor is essential to restoring peace in Liberia,” Philip Reeker, the US state department spokesman said in Washington yesterday. – Reuters