- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

From combined dispatches

The United States resisted pressure yesterday to lead a peacekeeping mission to Liberia, but said it was considering what it could do to help bring an end to the fighting.

“We’ve been looking more broadly at the overall situation to see what contribution we could make and how we might help work with others to calm that,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

West African countries pledged 3,000 troops for a peacekeeping force Sunday, but they want the United States to send an additional 2,000 to help prevent a blood bath in the capital and end nearly 14 years of violence.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Bush administration is “looking at a range of options” in Liberia, but has made no decision on whether to supply troops.

Mr. Rumsfeld did not reveal his personal view on whether U.S. forces should be deployed, though he seemed to suggest that African nations could handle it largely by themselves, noting that U.S. forces have trained Nigerian and other African armies for regional peacekeeping operations.

“They’ve been well-trained. We’ve helped equip them, and to the extent they’ve been deployed, I’ve been told they’ve handled themselves well,” he said.

African leaders are pressing for a troop commitment prior to President Bush’s five-day visit to Africa starting Monday.

U.N. Security Council ambassadors and West African leaders were in Ghana on the third stop of a West African mission, which has focused on assembling a 5,000-strong force to separate rebel forces and those of Liberian President Charles Taylor.

Rebels have waged a three-year campaign to unseat Mr. Taylor, an indicted U.N. war-crimes suspect blamed for much of the conflict that has roiled West Africa in recent years.

France, Britain, U.N. diplomats and both sides in Liberia’s fighting have pushed for an American role in a peace force for the country, which was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century and is a longtime regional U.S. ally and trade partner.

U.N. Ambassador Martin Chungong Ayafor of Cameroon, a Security Council member, suggested a U.S.-backed mission could win goodwill for the United States.

“This could be a good face-saving measure for them, and show that they intervene for the sake of peace and security,” Mr. Ayafor said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also suggested the United States take a leadership role in a peacekeeping force. “Of course that is a sovereign decision for them to take, but all eyes are on them,” Mr. Annan said in Geneva.

Liberia’s rebels joined the calls yesterday for U.S. military involvement.

“The Americans can lead the force, and the West Africans can play a supporting role,” Charles Bennie, a rebel envoy, said in Ghana.

U.S. forces are stretched thin by deployments abroad in areas which the Bush administration thinks are of greater strategic significance, especially Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States does however plan to provide one military expert to an international verification team which would monitor a cease-fire in Liberia, where government forces have been fighting rebel forces around the capital Monrovia.

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