- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

West African leaders decided yesterday to send “urgently” 1,300 Nigerian troops to war-torn Liberia as a “vanguard” of a multinational forced, meeting a key condition set by Washington for U.S. military contribution.

The Bush administration said it is working “very actively” with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional organization with primary responsibility for the stabilization effort, and will meet today in Sierra Leone with the commander of the Nigerian force.

A senior administration official said he expected the first Nigerian troops to arrive in Liberia within three to five days.

The ECOWAS decision on an initial contingent came after a two-day meeting in Dakar, Senegal, which was also attended by State Department and Pentagon officials.

“In view of the gravity of the situation in Liberia, we have decided to deploy two Nigerian battalions urgently to this country,” said Mohamed ibn Chambas, the ECOWAS executive secretary.

“The first battalion will come directly from Nigeria, and the second will leave from Sierra Leone,” he said.

The White House has been waiting for the countries in the region to deploy a limited force before it makes a decision on exactly how it can help. Another condition for sending U.S. troops is the departure of Liberian President Charles Taylor, who said yesterday that he will go into exile in Nigeria on Aug. 2.

“It’s important that the West Africans are moving forward to try to help Liberia; it’s important that they have narrowed down their military plan to the extent that they have a specific meeting on a specific set of troops that are getting ready to go in,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

“We are working very actively with the Africans on the planning for their deployment and for how we can support them,” he said, noting that the United Nations will also be represented at today’s meeting in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.

Rebels seized control of a key bridge in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, yesterday as renewed fighting shattered a day-old cease-fire pledge, sending thousands of families fleeing in a city desperately short of food, water and shelter.

According to Liberian authorities, more than 600 people have been killed in the latest bout of fighting in Monrovia.

Mr. Boucher said the United States has “continued to press directly with the rebels the need for them to immediately halt the fighting” through contacts between the U.S. ambassador to Guinea, Barrie Walkley, and the rebel leaders.

Swiss authorities said yesterday that they have frozen $1.47 million in bank accounts in Zurich and Geneva that belong to two individuals associated with Mr. Taylor, who has been indicted for war crimes.

The Justice Ministry last month ordered Swiss banks to report any assets believed to be connected to Mr. Taylor in compliance with a request by the war-crimes tribunal based in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Taylor is suspected of having invested proceeds from diamond sales in a number of countries, including Switzerland, the ministry said. He is also accused of reaping much of the profits from timber sales in Liberia, which has West Africa’s last rain forests.

“We have got to penetrate the walls of concealment that this indicted war criminal has thrown around his looted wealth,” said Desmond de Silva, Switzerland’s deputy prosecutor. Liberian assets in Switzerland were worth $3.3 billion, half of it Liberian-owned property, according to figures for 2002 released by the Swiss National Bank.

The order for freezing assets also applies to Mr. Taylor’s relatives, “members of his regime and various business people and companies,” the ministry said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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