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Vol 44 No 14

Published 11th July 2003


Meltdown in Monrovia

Sending peacekeepers into the capital without a political plan could cause yet more chaos and killing

Next week, the first component of 1,000 West African peacekeepers is due in Liberia to enforce a fragile ceasefire between President Charles Taylor's crumbling government and his rebel opponents. However, there is no political plan. No one knows whether Taylor will take up Nigeria's offer of asylum, thus removing himself and the pretext for the continuing conflict. Few people know the intentions of the rebel groups the Liberians United for Reconstruction and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model). Will they emulate their forerunner militias, which in 1990 after ousting President Samuel Kanyon Doe tortured him to death and then began a seven-year war among themselves? Then a force of West African peacekeepers was sent in to stem the chaos with minimal support from outside the region. This time, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan wants to bring in a broader-based force, with substantial logistical help and perhaps some marines from the United States. The latest peacekeeping plan was worked out between Annan and senior African officials meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, on 9 July, ahead of the African Union (AU) summit. It follows weeks of peace talks in Ghana and crisis talks in Washington as pressure mounted on President George Bush's government to help Liberia, just as he embarked on his 7-12 July tour of Africa. As in Congo-Kinshasa, Annan has acceded to US pressure and appointed a senior US diplomat, Jacques Paul Klein, as his Special Envoy to Liberia in the hope that this might persuade Washington to give serious backing to a joint UN-AU peacekeeping operation. Klein has high-level military experience: he was formerly Political Advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of the US European Command. After appointing Klein on 8 July, Annan ordered senior UN officials back to Monrovia to prepare for a humanitarian relief operation.

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