- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 14, 2003

A rebel advance on the outskirts of the Liberian capital Monrovia has left the city in darkness, taken up to 400 lives and triggered an exodus of foreign aid workers, diplomats and U.N. officials. But America’s ambassador, John Blaney, wasn’t on the French warship that evacuated about 500 Americans and other foreigners. He has stayed in Monrovia and was instrumental in brokering a cease-fire between the Liberian government and rebels. It has bought time and saved lives. But the truce remains uneasy.

Liberia has a special relationship with the United States. It was founded in 1847 by former America slaves, repatriated to Africa with the help of the United States and American abolitionists to begin their own republic. Initially, the country represented liberation. But Liberians’ very poor treatment of their labor class has stained the country’s legacy and led to a violent revolt that began in 1979 and is, in effect, still being carried out today.

Mr. Taylor had become a hero in 1990 after killing the brutal ruler Samuel Doe, who had led the country’s underclass to bloody retaliation against Liberia’s American-descendant elite. But Mr. Taylor’s backing of ruthless rebel fighters in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea has led to the death of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions. Over the weekend alone, 113 bodies were found lying in one street in Monrovia. The past week of fighting in Liberia has displaced about 100,000 people.

On Tuesday, a U.N.-backed court for Sierra Leone publicly announced its indictment of Mr. Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, while Mr. Taylor was negotiating a cease-fire with rebels in Ghana. Mr. Taylor then abruptly returned to Liberia. Talks weren’t resumed until after Mr. Blaney held two hours of talks with Mr. Taylor. “We discussed the urgency of stopping the fighting,” Mr. Blaney said, “I’m hopeful after this meeting and pretty confident that the government of Liberia is going to move forward with alacrity and commitment at the peace table.”

African officials have also been key mediators. The executive secretary from the Economic Community of West African States, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, and Ghana’s foreign minister, Nana Akufo-Addo, traveled to Monrovia to press Mr. Taylor to resume peace talks.

Rebels are demanding Mr. Taylor step down, while Mr. Taylor says an elimination of the indictment against him is a precondition for any sort of agreement. Fighting could therefore break out again. If this occurs, then some of the 13,000 U.N. troops in neighboring Sierra Leone could be deployed to Liberia to protect civilians.

Mr. Blaney’s fate remains uncertain. His commitment to the people of Liberia is especially notable, since Mr. Taylor made him the target of his loyalists, by criticizing the indictment in these terms: “It is racist, politically motivated and aimed at disgracing an African leader … Washington, London did it,” said Mr. Taylor. We hope Mr. Blaney and other African leaders can help bring about a resolution. If not, America has a special responsibility to the Liberian people and should help ensure the civilian population is protected.

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