- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2003

MONROVIA, Liberia — West Africa promised a peace force of at least 5,000 troops for Liberia if warring sides halt fighting, and France suggested yesterday it was open to contributing troops — stepping in where the United States, Liberia’s colonial-era founder, so far has declined to tread.

After a four-day battle between government and rebel forces for the Liberian capital, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council yesterday to authorize sending a multinational force to enforce a cease-fire that fell apart soon after it was signed last week.

“There are reports that several hundred innocent civilians have been killed in fighting in and around Monrovia and of wanton destruction of property and widespread looting,” Mr. Annan said in a letter to the council.

He called for the deployment to Liberia of a force “to prevent a major humanitarian tragedy and to stabilize the situation in that country.”

Liberia’s capital counted its dead from the siege this week, the rebels’ fiercest assault yet on Monrovia, a city of 1 million crowded with hundreds of thousands of refugees. Rebels pulled out of the city Friday after a four-day siege by artillery and rockets and after fighting that left an estimated 500 civilians dead.

A June 17 cease-fire accord called for an international peace force for Liberia. The cease-fire collapsed last week, after Liberian warlord-turned-President Charles Taylor repudiated his past pledges to yield power in the interest of peace. The rebels responded with the assault.

Monrovians awoke to calm yesterday for the first time in five days. Thousands of Liberians who had taken shelter around the city’s U.S. Embassy, hoping for protection through proximity to the American Marines there, streamed home yesterday, only to find homes looted by government soldiers and others.

In Ghana, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and Ghana President John Kufuor, current head of the West African leaders’ bloc, urged both sides in Liberia toward a real cease-fire. When that happens, Mr. Kufuor said, West Africa would lead an at least 5,000-member peace force to Liberia.

West African authorities spoke yesterday of the force deploying fairly quickly, with the aim of serving as a buffer between rebels and government.

Mr. Kufuor said Mr. de Villepin had offered both French troops and logistical support for such a force.

European and U.N. leaders have urged the United States to take a lead role in such a peace force, citing the effectiveness of Britain’s and France’s military deployments in their former colonies of Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.

The United States has shown no inclination to commit a similar force for Liberia, a key West African ally in the Cold War that still considers special ties to the United States through its founding by freed American slaves in the 19th century.

Mr. Taylor on Friday expressed support for a new international force in the current three-year rebellion. The Liberian leader also joined his people in urging the United States to get involved.

The United Nations has Mr. Taylor under sanctions for suspected gun- and diamond-running with West Africa’s rebel movements.

A U.N.-supported war crimes court in neighboring Sierra Leone announced Mr. Taylor’s indictment June 4 for his support of Sierra Leone’s vicious rebels in their 10-year terrorism campaign in that country.

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