- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

From combined dispatches

MONROVIA, Liberia — Displaced Liberians sheltered near the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia yesterday welcomed American soldiers who arrived to assess the humanitarian situation in war-wracked Liberia and called for the hasty exit of President Charles Taylor.

As the first batch of a team of 32 soldiers flew into the embassy by helicopter from neighboring Sierra Leone, the crowds around the embassy cried “Welcome USA, welcome.”

They also called for more troops and for the immediate departure of the embattled Mr. Taylor, whose capital is now ringed by rebels who have been fighting for four years to oust him.

The U.S. team arrived as President Bush departed Washington for a five-nation swing through Africa.

Though the president will not visit Liberia, turmoil there is likely to dominate his agenda. African leaders have asked the United States to lead an international peacekeeping force and to contribute 2,000 troops.

Other nations, mainly in Africa, have pledged 3,000 troops toward the effort.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer would not comment yesterday on the possibility that Mr. Bush could announce a decision before leaving on the trip, his first to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office. The visit will end July 12.

“The assessment team has landed on the ground, and the president awaits their reports. They will engage in a number of conversations with nations in the region and we have not yet received the reports back,” Mr. Fleischer said prior to the president’s departure.

Mr. Fleischer welcomed as “encouraging” Mr. Taylor’s offer to accept asylum in Nigeria but insisted that “actions follow words.”

“It remains encouraging, but the president will still wait and see to make sure that he does indeed go. That is a vital first step in order for stability to be maintained,” Mr. Fleischer said.

Near the American Embassy in Monrovia, Solomon Sirick, a 33-year-old displaced by the latest fighting, said Washington should intervene in Liberia, a country founded by freed African-American slaves in the 19th century.

“We want George W. Bush to do for Liberians what he did for the Afghans and for the Iraqis,” he said. “Liberians have suffered too much.”

The U.S. team’s leader, Roger Coldiron, said he was not in Monrovia in a military capacity but to “assess the security situation” and determine the humanitarian needs.

T. Max William, another man displaced by the conflict, said: “What we need is peace, not food.”

Big Spencer Austin, 28, added: “The United States should recolonize Liberia. Americans have to send a general to replace Taylor. We don’t want a dictator anymore. We want to be recolonized because we have failed to solve our problems ourselves.”

Mr. Bush’s first stop will be Senegal today. He also is to visit South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria.

The countries were chosen for their success, either economic or political, in a continent plagued by war, disease and famine.

In the Mozambique capital of Maputo, African ministers urged the United States yesterday to deploy troops in Liberia.

“The ministers have been very passionate about the need for the U.S. to send troops to Liberia. The U.S. has a shared history with Liberia and it would show that Bush is actually committed to something on the continent,” said an East African diplomat attending the Maputo talks.

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