Momentum was building today for an international force to deploy to Liberia in a bid to end fighting that has left hundreds dead and a war that has spread chaos in West Africa for more than a decade.
The United States, because of historic ties to a country founded by freed American slaves, is under the most pressure to lead a mission demanded by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Britain, France and legions of tired and frightened Liberians.
Liberia said Saturday that it was already talking to the United States and West African countries about sending troops. Annan, a Ghanaian, said the U.N. Security Council should meet immediately to approve a force to seal a shaky truce on the ground.
Even that news brought some relief for the tens of thousands of terrified Liberians packed into Monrovia with little idea where to turn for refuge and without adequate food or water.
“Well, at least someone out there has been able to listen to our cries. When the U.N. speaks, we know something will happen. That is why we decided to go back home,” said Bokar Samoki.
Liberia has known little but violence for the last 14 years, but two failed and bloody rebel assaults on the capital, Monrovia, left at least 700 dead in 10 days and brought home the danger of far greater bloodletting.
Two rebel factions control 60% of the ruined land and want to get rid of President Charles Taylor, a former warlord indicted for war crimes by an international court.
Taylor has joined calls for the United States to step in, despite the fact that President Bush urged him to quit last week and save his country of 3 million further pain.
“I think the U.S. ought to come now, using my strength, my popularity and my legitimacy and work to bring peace in Liberia,” said Taylor, dressed in a dark suit and sunglasses on a visit to troops in the field.
So far, the Bush administration has not decided on sending any force, although the issue is under discussion. Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, publicly urged the United States last week to lead a multinational force.
“There are at least talks of further intervention. Whether that’s necessary or appropriate, I don’t know at this point,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday.
Daily marches to the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia since the latest rebel attack have demanded intervention to save Liberians from forces on both sides who inspire little confidence they could bring peace.