Sharpton returns from Africa (FCN, 08-02-2003)
(FinalCall.com) – Liberians were overwhelmed with joy at the sight of the first peacekeepers to arrive in the war-torn country since heavy fighting between government and rebel forces reignited July 19.
Residents danced in the streets, sang spiritual hymns and chanted “No more war, we want peace” as West African forces from Nigeria flew in by helicopter at the international airport.
In Rome, the leader of the main rebel group, LURD, which controls Monrovia’s vital port, said his fighters would withdraw once the Nigerians moved in. He also reiterated demands that Liberia’s President Charles Taylor leave the country as soon as possible, according to reports.
Both, government forces and rebels welcomed the troops and stopped shooting as Monrovia enjoyed its quietest day in more than two weeks.
“We are very happy for them to be here, so that this war can come to an end,” army chief of staff General Benjamin Yeaten said. “Liberians are very tired of war.”
The jubilant crowd hoisted one Nigerian colonel onto their shoulders, according to reports.
Reuters reported that the Nigerians are expected to camp at the airport for a few days, then move to central Monrovia, about 33 miles away.
Nigerian Brigadier-General Festus Okonkwo, commander of the peacekeeping force, has said one goal will be to secure the capital’s port so vital food and fuel can be shipped in.
Monrovia has no running water and food is scarce. Activists have called the situation a humanitarian disaster, as supplies can’t get into the city.
The 300 Nigerian soldiers that arrived are the first a wave of 1,500 Nigerian troops expected to come. Two thousand other troops from West African nations will follow, as well as a UN stabilization force to be deployed in October, according to reports.
Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Oluyemi Adeniji, who flew in with the peacekeepers, said a meeting he had with Liberian President Charles Taylor was very upbeat.
“We have come to explain to the president about the deployment of the troops, to explain to him that the force is here. The president was very happy,” Mr. Adeniji said.
Pres. Taylor has pledged to resign on August 11 and leave the country afterwards, but has given no date for his departure. He has been charged with war crimes by a UN-supported tribunal in neighboring Sierra Leone for his alleged involvement with rebels there.
Pres. Taylor’s spokesperson in Monrovia said preparations were continuing for him to move to Nigeria.
“No time has been attached to it, not because of any issue but because of security reasons,” Vaani Passawe said. A day earlier, the spokesman implied that the president would leave only after the lifting of a war crimes indictment.
“He will only leave Liberia as a free man,” Mr. Passawe had said.
Meanwhile, U.S. warships off the coast of Liberia are ready to provide logistics and communications assistance to West African troops in Liberia, and some American forces probably will go ashore, a senior official said at Final Call press time.