- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

From combined dispatches

West African nations will play an immediate role in conflict-ridden Liberia while other countries will send troops eventually, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday.

“The immediate leading role in Liberia will be taken up by ECOWAS, and they enjoy the full support of the African Union,” Mr. Annan told reporters during a meeting of African leaders in the Mozambique capital of Maputo.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a West African regional bloc in which Nigeria plays the leading role. The African Union is a continentwide association.

“Eventually we expect troops from other parts of Africa to contribute,” he added.

Ghanaian Foreign Minister Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo later told Agence France-Press, “We are looking at a time frame of 10 to 14 days and a total force of 1,000 to 1,500.”

Mr. Annan was speaking before meeting the incoming president of the AU, Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, to discuss wars on the continent, a key issue at a three-day AU summit starting today.

In 1997, two years after the inauguration of Charles Taylor, the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy plunged Liberia into its latest war in a bid to topple the president.

In the Liberian capital of Monrovia yesterday, U.S. military advisers came face to face with the dreadful cost of Liberia’s war, wading through wards overflowing with wounded — some nursing bandaged stumps — in a damaged hospital named for a slain American president.

At the once-prestigious John F. Kennedy Hospital, still partially ruined from the 1989-96 civil war, the wounded were crowded into refurbished wards, some sleeping on mattresses on the floor, their heads, chests and limbs wrapped in bandages.

In one partly abandoned section, the Americans crossed a water-flooded hallway by walking atop benches. The hospital provides the only surgical care in Monrovia, and during the most recent fighting, civilians and wounded from both sides were brought in, sometimes still armed.

“At times, it can be almost like death,” said the hospital’s chief administrator, Beuford Taylor, who is not related to the president. “They have guns, and you don’t know if they will use them.”

Earlier in the day, Liberian villagers hoping for a U.S.-led rescue mission stormed a runway yesterday as U.S. military specialists toured an airfield as part of efforts to decide whether to send peacekeeping troops to the West African country.

Chanting, “We want peace; no more war,” the villagers ran up and down the runway in the rain. Liberian soldiers kept them away from the U.S. specialists evaluating the airfield for use in a relief effort.

The United Nations and European leaders have sought U.S. troops to enforce the June 17 cease-fire between forces loyal to Mr. Taylor and rebels fighting to oust him. West African nations have offered 3,000 troops and suggested the United States contribute 2,000.

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