Fri, Jul 11, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Military advisers assess Liberia's state


US military advisers toured a crowded, damaged hospital as they continued to assess the war-divided country's state before the US decides whether to send peacekeeping forces.

The US faces mounting international pressure to send troops to lead a peacekeeping force in Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century. West African nations plan to send 1,000 troops to Liberia within two weeks, negotiators meeting in nearby Ghana said Wednesday.

At the once-prestigious John F. Kennedy hospital -- still partially ruined from Liberia's last 1989-96 civil war -- shot-up patients were crammed into refurbished wards, sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

In one partly abandoned section, the US envoys crossed a water-flooded hallway by walking on top of benches.

During the latest round of fighting, civilians and wounded from both sides were brought here, sometimes still armed.

"They have guns, and you don't know if they will use them," said the hospital's chief administrator, Beuford Taylor.

The 32-member US team -- including military experts on civilian affairs and a security component -- arrived Monday to assess security conditions in Liberia and humanitarian needs of its three million people.

Earlier Wednesday, exuberant Liberian villagers flooded a runway chanting, "We want peace, no more war," when another group of US experts in military fatigues visited a Monrovia airfield to determine whether it could be used to bring in relief supplies and other material.

Washington is wary of becoming too deeply involved in a West African conflict -- especially with American troops already heavily committed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

A US official in Liberia's capital said he believed security was the country's most pressing problem. He said it remained unclear how much of a threat Liberia's warring factions could pose to US forces, should Bush decide to deploy them. Yet the official added: "untrained, undisciplined troops are always a threat."

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