Thursday, July 10, 2003

ECOWAS deploys 1000 troops to Liberia

*Senate approves deployment of Nigerian troops

By Yusuf Ozi-Usman & Musa Aliyu, with Agency Reports

The first contingent of 1,000 West African peacekeepers is to be deployed in war-torn Liberia within two weeks, although Washington has not yet announced whether the US will deploy any troops to help with peacekeeping, despite pressure to do so.

The decision follows a meeting of West African leaders and the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan in Mozambique ahead of a summit of African Union, (AU), leaders.

Rebels have launched two major assaults on Monrovia, the capital in recent months and the fighting has displaced thousands of civilians.

An American team of military experts is in the country on the second day of their mission to assess humanitarian and security needs while hundreds of Liberians gathered in heavy rain yesterday to greet the team visiting an airfield near the capital, to evaluate whether the airfield could be used to fly in relief supplies.

The crowd of mostly women and children chanted, "we want peace" as the team arrived.

The Americans are also expected to visit the port and Monrovia’s main hospital.

On Tuesday, Mr. Annan ordered an immediate resumption of UN humanitarian work in Liberia and the return of UN aid workers and appointed a senior US diplomat, Jacques Klein, as his top envoy to Liberia.

Earlier this week, the ECOWAS agreed to provide 3,000 troops as a peacekeeping force in Liberia, while ECOWAS Executive Secretary, Mohamed Ibn Chambas told the BBC it was vital to ensure the security of Monrovia.

He said the United States was supportive of the peacekeeping initiative and would be sending military planners to Ghana for discussions later this week.

ECOWAS estimated the cost of deploying the force and keeping them in place for the first six months at $100m.

A BBC West Africa correspondent said the promise may be for deployment in the next 14 days but it may not go as smoothly to the timetable as the ECOWAS would like.

In the past, peacekeeping missions put together by the organisation have been slow to get into place because of financial and logistics problems, he said.

US President, George W. Bush, has said that the first step to ensure peace in Liberia is for President Charles Taylor, indicted for war crimes, to leave the country and Mr. Taylor has accepted President Olusegun Obasanjo’s offer of asylum but said peacekeepers should come first to assure an orderly exit.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), says it is struggling to cope with thousands of refugees and displaced civilians who have converged in Monrovia after recent fighting between government troops and rebels.

It says 15,000 refugees from Sierra Leone are living in camps on the outskirts of Monrovia, but many fled into the city as rebels try to capture the capital.

Meanwhile, the Liberian government delegation at the peace talks in Ghana say they want Liberian Vice President, Moses Blah to lead the transitional government after President Taylor steps down.

However, the main LURD rebel group rejected the proposal on the transfer of power and also dismissed the idea of elections.

The Senate Majority Leader, Senator Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, who said it has become necessary to deploy troops to war-torn Liberia in view of the latest developments, one of which was the willingness of President Charles Taylor to leave Liberia on condition that an independent peacekeeping force would be around in the country, tabled the motion requesting for the approval to move Nigerian troops to Liberia.

Senator Tafida said that the international community had already acceded to Taylor’s condition and agreed that an international peacekeeping force be deployed in that country and that Nigeria should contribute two battalions to that force.

Senator Tafida reminded his colleagues that Nigeria had been actively involved in the search for peace in Liberia, which has been ravaged by war in the last 14 years.

The Senate unanimously approved the deployment of Nigerian troops pursuant to Section 5(4)(b) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.