Sun, Jul 20, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Bush must decide what to do with Liberia

By Chen-shen Yen 嚴震生

Liberia is one of Taiwan's eight diplomatic allies in Africa and we care about the development and direction of its civil war. Not only do we worry that Beijing might take advantage of the chaotic situation to reap political benefits there, but are also sincerely concerned about the security of its people. We can provide humanitarian assistance but would not be able to participate in any peace efforts. Peace seems to hinge on whether the US chooses to intervene and help stabilize this West African nation.

Last week, US President George W. Bush traveled to five African countries to talk about themes such as democratic governance, economic development, foreign assistance, peace and security and the fight against AIDS and terrorism. However, the Liberian situation forced the president of the most powerful nation in the world to eventually show his hand. He could no longer pretend that this is an African regional issue.

After all, this is Liberia, a country founded by freed slaves from the US. If Great Britain was able to help stabilize Sierra Leone and spearhead democratic elections, and if France was able to provide peacekeeping forces to supervise a ceasefire between rebels and government forces in the Ivory Coast, why can't the US play a similar role in Liberia?

It is not just the Liberians who have suffered the effects of a collapsed state since civil war started in 1989 that are looking forward to American intervention. Britain and France, with many former colonies in the region that have felt the negative repercussion of the Liberian conflicts, naturally want the US to intervene. West African states, with limited resources and suspicion of Nigeria's dominance, would also welcome an outside force to neutralize various regional designs and competing interests.

Because of what happened to Iraq where the US easily won the war but now appear to be sinking into a quagmire and the previous experience in Somalia where 17 American soldiers were killed by local warlords, the Bush administration seems to be straddling the fence as whether to intervene or to stay out of Liberia.

Despite the disagreement over the US war against Iraq earlier, Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan has called on the US to take the lead in a peacekeeping operation in Liberia.

Bush finally agreed to send a military assessment team to Monrovia last week to evaluate humanitarian conditions there. As soon as these US soldiers arrived in Liberia they were welcomed by the local people who hope this mission will provide answers to their predicament.

Liberian President Charles Taylor, a veteran of civil strife and the Houdini of political struggle, has indicated that he will not step down until peacekeeping forces arrive. It appears that without a resolve from the Bush administration to intervene, Taylor is going to cling to power as long as he can. While the US continues its "assessment" the Liberians wait for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to send troops.

From Taipei's perspective, we'd like to see an effective ceasefire and peace agreement reached in Liberia whether it requires the presence of international peacekeeping forces or not. We need to be on guard as to whether any change of leadership in Liberia might affect relations between.

With Beijing's three liquidations policy (to lure away all of the ROC's diplomatic allies; to block any opportunity for Taiwan to join any international organization or activity and to eliminate all the bargaining chips and clout that Taiwan has used to seek an equal footing with Beijing) still in force, there cannot be any letdown in maintaining ties.

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