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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 July, 2003, 04:24 GMT 05:24 UK
West African troops set for Liberia
Anti-government demonstrators in Monrovia demand US intervention
Liberians have been urging Washington to intervene
The West African regional body, Ecowas, has agreed to provide 3,000 troops for a peacekeeping force in Liberia, in the throes of a bitter civil war.

In its statement after talks in the Ghanaian capital Accra, Ecowas also urged the United States to take a lead role in the operation.

But officials in Washington say President George W Bush has not made any decision yet on troop deployment, although a US military delegation has been sent to Liberia to assess the situation.

We need a lead nation to come along with us
Mohammed Ibn Chambas
Ecowas head

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since fighting broke out between government troops and rebels, and aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis.

A week-long ceasefire looked to have broken down on Friday when rebel commanders reported fresh fighting in the north of the country.

In other developments:

  • Liberian President Charles Taylor - indicted for war crimes by a UN-backed court in Sierra Leone - says he will step down but only when international peacekeepers have been deployed

  • The World Health Organisation makes an urgent appeal for funds and supplies to tackle a serious outbreak of cholera and other diseases among the 200,000 people living rough

    Liberians are desperate for an end to over a decade of conflict

  • A ship chartered by the United Nations is taking 350 refugees from Liberia back home to Sierra Leone - the UN says it will continue to operate the service while the ceasefire holds

  • Talks between the government and rebel groups resume in Accra, with mediators setting a target of 15 July for a transitional government

  • Nigeria dismisses reports that it has already offered asylum for Mr Taylor saying President Olusegun Obasanjo is still looking into the matter

Washington divided

The Ecowas statement said that in addition to its peacekeepers, 2,000 more troops would be requested from three countries outside the region - South Africa, Morocco and the United States.

CHARLES TAYLOR
Charles Taylor
Indicted on war crimes charges
Under UN sanctions
Former warlord
Won 1997 elections

Experts say that Ecowas - alongside the Liberian Government and also rebels - has long been urging Washington to be a backbone of any peacekeeping forces.

"We need a lead nation to come along with us, to enable us to move quickly, to provide us with logistical and financial support," Ecowas' head Mohammed Ibn Chambas told the BBC.

America has so far not committed itself to any troop deployment, but it also has not ruled out such an option.

Liberia was founded by freed American slaves and both West African leaders and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have urged Washington to lead the force.

But with US forces already deployed in large numbers in Afghanistan and Iraq, senior White House officials are said to be divided on the issue.

Taylor's offer

On Friday, President Taylor told religious leaders in Monrovia that he would resign earlier than his previous deadline of next January, when his term of office expires.

But he stressed that a peacekeeping force had to be in place to prevent chaos in the aftermath.

"I don't understand why the United States Government would insist that I be absent before its soldiers arrive," he said.

His declaration was welcomed by the United States, which has urged Mr Taylor to leave the country for the sake of peace.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr Taylor needed to "back up his encouraging words with deeds", but left open the possibility of US flexibility over his departure


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Doyle
"At least 5000 Sierra Leonian refugees want to leave Liberia"


Dr Ibn Chambas, ECOWAS Chairman on Focus on Africa
"I believe the United States will rise up to this occasion"



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