- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2003

Force for Liberia

The Security Council last week approved a U.N. peacekeeping force for Liberia, providing a measure of stability and hope in a country racked by 14 years of continuous civil war.

Once it reaches an authorized troop strength of 15,000, the mission will be one of the organization’s largest, comparable to those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighboring Sierra Leone.

The new mission will take over from and largely incorporate the 3,250 Nigerian troops who have been securing the capital city, Monrovia, and branch out to the gang-ravaged countryside.

The mission — which likely will include peacekeepers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Russia and Ireland — will help implement the June 17 peace accord between the former Liberian government and various rebel factions. The new administration, led by President Moses Blah, will assume power Oct. 14.

Meanwhile, a cholera epidemic in Monrovia has killed more than 100 people and is gaining strength in Liberia’s second-largest city, Buchanan, the World Health Organization said.

Deals with devils

James Morris, the head of the U.N. World Food Program, knows exactly what his job is.

“My narrow perspective is to make sure that women and children don’t starve,” he says. It is a simple declarative that puts the Rome-based WFP on the side of the angels.

Unfortunately, many of the governments with which the WFP deals are not so firmly aligned with the powers of good.

There are the repressive dictatorships that use food as a weapon against their own people. There are the powerful who skim profits or merchandise for black-market sales. And there are the armies and paramilitary groups that divert relief supplies to their troops and sympathizers — with or without the knowledge of the humanitarian organizations involved.

The World Food Program supplies aid in many of these morally ambiguous situations, such as in Zimbabwe, North Korea, Liberia and Sudan.

Under Saddam Hussein — where more than 60 percent of Iraq’s population relied on the WFP-coordinated oil-for-food program for all their staples — the vast network of food distributors turned out to be the ultimate surveillance system for a repressive regime.

Mr. Morris has heard all of this before, and he knows the risks of cooperating with governments that, delicately phrased, do not seem to put the welfare of their citizens first.

Even those on the side of the angels have to make deals with the Saddams of the world in order to feed their people.

“Everybody wishes that every country in the world would first make a commitment to the well-being and good health of their children and their people,” Mr. Morris said.

“There are all sorts of strange ways governments use national assets. My own view is that there is nothing more important for a country to be interested in than the safe and strong development of its kids.”

Mr. Morris acknowledges that difficult leaders make his job harder.


President Bush last week announced his intention to nominate the following to U.N.-related posts:

• Benjamin A. Gilman, former Republican representative from New York and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, to be U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly.

• Ann M. Corkery, of Virginia, to be U.S. alternate representative to the General Assembly.

• Walid Maalouf, a Virginia banker, to be U.S. alternate representative to the General Assembly.

• Education Secretary Rod Paige, of Texas, to be a U.S. representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

• Louise V. Oliver, a management consultant from the District, to be a U.S. representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Betsy Pisik may be reached by e-mail at UNear@aol.com.

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