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The world looks at Liberia

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Liberia's President Charles Taylor and two rebel groups agreed to a cease-fire June 17, but the firing has hardly ceased. For residents of the capital, Monrovia, it has only gotten worse, with one of the rebel groups, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, still on the attack.

LURD says it is trying to force Taylor to leave office, as he has promised, for asylum in Nigeria. Taylor says he won't leave until U.S. and African peacekeeping troops arrive. President George Bush says he won't send troops until Taylor leaves.

Liberians are begging the United States for help. Yesterday, at least 25 refugees were killed during shelling.

Following are excerpts from accounts of the situation from the region and around the world.

United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network

... Charles Bennie, a LURD representative at the Liberian peace talks in Accra, said his movement would not stop fighting "until somebody tells Taylor's forces stop shooting at us. "

... The June 17 ceasefire agreement provided for the parties represented at the peace talks in Accra to negotiate the creation of a transitional government, excluding Taylor within 30 days. It also provided for an international peacekeeping force to be sent into Liberia to enforce the truce.

Since then, however, LURD has mounted two fresh attacks on Monrovia, Taylor has remained in power, the Accra peace talks have failed to thrash out a blueprint for leading Liberia into a new era of peace and democracy within the timespan allotted, and proposals for dispatching a West African peace-keeping force have remained on the drawing board. ...

The Irish Times

Dublin

... Every step of the peace process has been dogged by delay. Technical and political problems, and excuses and prevarications - above all, the lack of urgency and political will manifest on all sides - are a stark contrast to the urgency and ability to act manifested by the U.S. and its allies in Iraq only too recently.

True, President Bush well remembers the U.S.'s last engagement in Africa - the bloody trap that an "easy" 1993 mission to Somalia turned into. ...

But the U.S. has a special relationship with the country which owes its existence to the assisted resettlement of freed slaves in the middle of the 19th century.

Its forces will be warmly received, unlike in Iraq, and its involvement will be seen internationally as an important and welcome signal of willingness to work in a multilateral security framework.

And Mr. Taylor's departure after eight years in office will not come a day too soon. A brutal and corrupt megalomaniac, who has stoked the bloody chaos in his own and neighboring countries, his immediate exile is his country's only slim hope.

The Daily Nation

Nairobi

... Conflicts in the continent arise due to two main factors. Most wars on these fair shores are motivated by a quest for power in an undemocratic environment. The belligerent parties are usually a ruling elite intent on holding onto power and therefore determined not to allow free and fair elections.

Taken together with tribal and clan voting patterns, religious differences and racial tensions, those in power endeavor to allocate resources to their cohorts and exclude the rest of the population.

This stokes the fire of rebellion among the excluded classes, who, lacking constitutional means to ascend to power, take up arms.

The fire of conflict in Africa is fed by the vast natural resources that provide a huge incentive to wage war and are used to pay for arms. Whereas industrialized countries pretend to ban trade in illegal arms on paper, they preside over huge industries that turn out tonnes of arms used in African wars.

The arms industry in these countries is a major contributor to the election funds of politicians and their trades are protected as long as they are hushed-up.

The proliferation of arms in West, East and Central Africa is helped by these policies. The West should stop its moral charade and admit that sections of their economies thrive on African blood. ...

The Independent

London

... Liberia is the closest thing America has to a former colony in Africa. The currency is the dollar, the flag is a star and stripes, and Monrovia is named after the fifth U.S. president, James Monroe. Place names carry other familiar echoes, Providence Island, Maryland County, Virginia, Cheesemanburg. Major roads are referred to as "freeways," even if they are littered with roadblocks manned by drug-smoking militiamen.

Until Liberia plunged into civil war in 1989, the two countries were tied by money and politics as well as history. During the Second World War, Liberia declared war on Germany at America's behest. During the Cold War, inside the sprawling U.S. embassy, CIA agents intercepted global communications. A Voice of America transmitter stood outside town as well as an Omega navigation station that tracked planes, ships and submarines.

But if the freed American slaves forged Liberia, they also bear some responsibility for its slide into war. In a classic case of the abuser perpetuating his own abuse, Americo-Liberians treated native Africans like the slaves they had once been. ...

These days the tensions have eased - Americo-Liberians make up 5 percent of the population - but Liberians of all backgrounds are united in feeling the U.S. has an obligation to rescue them. "We were there for them in the past," said Catholic Archbishop Michael K. Francis. "Now they owe this to us."

Vanguard newspaper

Lagos, Nigeria

... There are still rebel groups in Liberia ... inflicting pain on Taylor's government as he did to Sergeant Samuel Doe years back. [Taylor] insists that until the United States deploys its troops he will not leave Liberia. Meanwhile while these elephants are fighting, the poor people of Liberia are going through unbelievable suffering and agony. ...

The question Nigerians are asking is why should President Olusegun Obasanjo grant Charles Taylor political asylum when other certified international criminals like Saddam Hussein and his two sons ... and most wanted Osama bin Laden are being denied the same treatment.

... It should have become clear to all that Nigeria is no longer a dumping ground for tyrants. If, as a people we would not tolerate the reign of tyrants, why then would we tolerate those who have despoiled other countries. Nigeria might not have attained its destined height but the people know their destination.

The Economist

London

When George Bush was campaigning for the presidency, he said that he opposed sending American troops on nation-building missions, especially to chaotic places where no American national interest was at stake. Liberia is almost a caricature of such a place. It is of no strategic importance, its annual output is roughly what Americans spend on skiing equipment, and its civil war is both bloody and bizarre: drug-emboldened teen-agers in masks and dressing-gowns rape and loot; perhaps 200,000 out of a population of 3 million have died. At a time when America's forces are sorely stretched, Liberia is surely the last place a wise president should send them. ...

Nonetheless, there is a moral case for American intervention. Liberia's war is not only a human catastrophe; it is also destabilizing much of West Africa. ... So long as [Charles Taylor] remains in power, there is a risk that the region could slide into mayhem. The world hardly needs more failed states. ...

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