President Bush yesterday demanded that Liberian President Charles Taylor step down as angry Liberians stacked the bloody bodies of victims of shelling in front of the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia.
More than 300 civilians have been killed and at least 1,000 injured as rebels pushed into the capital port city over the past few days, fighting to oust the former warlord charged with war crimes. As mobs in front of the U.S. Embassy pleaded for the United States to intervene, Mr. Bush said the time has come for Mr. Taylor to cede power.
“President Taylor needs to step down so that his country can be spared further bloodshed,” said Mr. Bush, who travels to Africa July 7 for a five-day visit.
Mr. Taylor had pledged to step down under a new peace accord. But last Friday, he reneged on the deal and said he would serve out the six months remaining in his term and perhaps run for re-election, sparking a renewal of the West African nation’s three-year civil war.
“All the parties in Liberia must pursue a comprehensive peace agreement, and the United States is working with regional governments to support those negotiations and to map out a secure transition to elections,” Mr. Bush said. “We are determined to help the people of Liberia find the path to peace.”
As the president addressed African business leaders gathered at a summit in Washington, survivors of rocket strikes stacked up 11 bodies, including three children, outside the embassy in Monrovia.
The victims died at a nearby U.S. compound hit by rockets on Wednesday as thousands of terrified people sought refuge inside. Hundreds of people gathered in front of the embassy, some weeping, to call on America to intervene.
Some accused the United States and U.S. Marines in the country of allowing the killings across Liberia, a nation founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves.
“Why should they forget about us?” Martin Wesseh told Reuters news agency before breaking down in tears.
The fighting see-sawed in and around Monrovia all day. Mr. Taylor’s forces drove the rebels up to six miles outside the city yesterday only for them to return after nightfall in a battle for the country’s main port.
Mr. Bush yesterday waded into three of Africa’s longest-running and most brutal civil wars, saying “the cycle of attack and escalation is reckless, it is destructive and it must be ended.”
He called on Congo, where a five-year war that has left more than 3 million dead has nearly come to an end, to establish a transitional government by Monday. Mr. Bush also urged the governments of Congo’s neighbors, all of whom have withdrawn their forces, to help the nation create an integrated national army.
“The United States is working with the Congo and its neighbors to ensure the security and integrity of their borders. To encourage progress across all of Africa, we must build peace at the heart of Africa,” he said.
The president also pledged to send his special envoy to Sudan, former Sen. John Danforth, Missouri Republican, back to the region in hopes of ending Africa’s longest-running civil war, which has claimed some 2 million lives over 20 years.
“He will make clear that the only option on the table is peace. Both sides must now make their final commitment to peace and human rights, and end the suffering of Sudan,” Mr. Bush said, drawing applause.
But Mr. Bush stopped short of embracing calls for the United States to lead an international peacekeeping force in Liberia and to support an expanded U.N. peacekeeping operation in Congo.
“The United States supports efforts by African governments to build successful peacekeeping forces,” he said. “In the long run, Africans will keep the peace in Africa.”
As he laid out his hopes about Africa, Mr. Bush also announced his administration’s plan to spend $100 million to combat terrorism at airports and seaports in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda and Tanzania.
The 15-month counterterrorism initiative aims mainly at bolstering airport and seaport security in Africa, where widespread lawlessness and corruption have made it ripe for the al Qaeda network and other terrorist groups to establish footholds in Muslim communities across the continent.
“Many African governments have the will to fight the war on terror, and we are thankful for that will. We will give them the tools and the resources to win the war on terror,” Mr. Bush said.
The president leaves July 7 for a trip to Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria. On the continent, Mr. Bush will stress the need for African nations to embrace democracy, and tout his strategy to help suffering Africans, including his five-year, $15 billion plan to battle the spread of HIV/AIDS and his effort to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act trade regime beyond 2008.