- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2003

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush pledged yesterday that American forces would be out of Liberia by Oct. 1 as the Liberian government and rebels signed a peace accord to end a bloody three-year insurgency.

“It’s short-term,” Mr. Bush told Armed Forces Network in an interview he gave Thursday but that was made public yesterday. “We have a special obligation in Liberia to help with humanitarian aid. And therefore we will.”

The president said: “We’ll be out of there by October the 1st. We’ve got U.N. blue-helmeted troops ready to replace our limited number of troops.”

The promise addresses fears that U.S. forces, committed to long-term deployments in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, would face an open-ended mission in Liberia, where 200 Marines were deployed last week.

The release of the president’s remarks came as Liberia’s government and the rebels signed a peace deal.

Calm settled into the Liberian capital, Monrovia, and shopkeepers opened for the first time in a month, the Associated Press reported.

The accord, signed in Accra, Ghana, calls for a two-year power-sharing government, meant to lead Liberia into elections and out of 14 years of conflict brought on by ousted President Charles Taylor.

The two rebel movements — Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia — signed, along with representatives of Liberia’s post-Taylor government.

Under the deal, all three waive any claim to the top posts in the interim government, yielding control to noncombatants.

“I want to believe that with the signing of this agreement today, Liberia will never be plunged into another spiral of violence in the quest for political power or under the false pretense of liberating the people,” said retired Nigerian Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, chief mediator for the talks.

“Liberians do not need liberators anymore. Liberians need developers and nation-builders,” he said.

Ghana’s president, John Kufuor, was on hand for the agreement, which had representatives of the United Nations, European Union and African Union sign as witnesses.

The United States has had an influential delegation at the talks and signed as witnesses to a June 17 cease-fire accord, but it says West Africa must take the lead in Liberia.

The deal comes a week after the resignation of Mr. Taylor, who flew into exile at the demand of rebels, West African leaders and the United States.

Mr. Taylor plunged once-prosperous Liberia into conflict in 1989, leading a small insurgency. The seven-year civil war that followed killed at least 150,000 and ruined virtually every city and town in the country.

Mr. Taylor won the presidency in 1997, elected largely out of fear he would reignite fighting if he lost. The northern-based Liberians United group began its insurgency in 1999 and was joined late last year by the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, based on Ivory Coast’s border.

Mr. Bush, in the interview, said, “We will have a limited mission, of limited duration and limited scope, and that we will help what’s called Ecomil, which is the Western African nations’ militaries, go in and provide the conditions necessary for humanitarian aid to move.”

Ecomil refers to the regional peacekeeping force led by Nigeria. When fully deployed, it has 3,250 troops.

The president made clear that the small contingent of U.S. forces in Monrovia will have a limited role in keeping the peace.

“Their job is to help secure an airport and a port so food can be off-loaded and the delivery process begun to help people in Monrovia,” he said.

Before the Marines arrived, Liberia’s combatants broke all past peace accords and returned to fighting.

In a week, “the situation is really stabilized here,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Reiff of Oshkosh, Wis. — among about 200 Marines and other American troops sent onshore to back up the West African force.

Liberians and the international community say they hope the promised U.N. peace force will make a difference this time.

“Any agreement that sticks is to the benefit of the humanitarian situation and the people of Liberia,” Ross Mountain, the top U.N. humanitarian official in Liberia, said yesterday.

“Today is better than yesterday. The gunmen are going away. It’s coming on, gradually,” Johnson Saryee, an unemployed truck driver among thousands gathering at Monrovia’s port in hopes of finding work, told the AP.

Relief supplies that have been trickling into the country sustained a blow yesterday when an aid ship carrying $86,000 worth of generators, fuel cans and other nonfood supplies for Liberia sank in a storm off the coast of Sierra Leone. Nobody was injured.

The ship, the Madame Patricia, carried 19 persons, all citizens of Sierra Leone, ship owner Abdul Labbie said in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. World Vision spokesman Dan Kelly and others put the number aboard at 22.

“They had quite a swim. They were wearing their life preservers, and they swam ashore,” Mr. Kelly said.

World Vision, based in Federal Way, Wash., is a Christian humanitarian group. The shipment was among the first for Liberia.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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