JIM LEHRER: We do start with an update on the situation in the African nation of Liberia. It comes from Assistant Secretary of State George Moose, who was in Liberia last week. Mr. Secretary, welcome.
GEORGE MOOSE, Assistant Secretary of State: Good evening, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: First, on this fire fight today, what caused it? What started it?
SEC. MOOSE: Well, we have no reason to believe that this was a serious or deliberate attack on the embassy itself. We know that because of the insecurity in Monrovia, the last several days, there have been a number of bands, some of them affiliated with factions, some not, that have been roving the streets, and all the indications are that this was not something that was a deliberate attack on the embassy. In any event, we had no--there were no casualties on the American side, and we have no evidence of casualties on the other side.
JIM LEHRER: Now, there was supposed to have been a cease-fire at noon today, but the firing not only continued, it even got worse. Can you bring us up to date on that?
SEC. MOOSE: Well, there have been repeated efforts, indeed, my purpose in going to Monrovia last week was to reinforce the efforts of the Ghanaian mediators who have been trying to achieve a cease-fire to get the peace process, such as it is, back on track. The part of the problem is frankly that faction leaders don't control all their own fighters. They're not troops. Part of the problem is, as well, is that they created a problem by the influx of arms into Monrovia. There are arms in the hands of many young people who have no affiliation nor association. It is a beast which, frankly, is, is one that can come back and get them.
JIM LEHRER: Who did these arms come from? How did they get in there?
SEC. MOOSE: Regrettably, it is all too easy in the unstable parts of Africa for arms to, to enter the country. We suspect that corrupt officials in neighboring countries are partly the problem, but the fact of the matter is that arms are--Africa and other parts of the world are awash in arms. And one of the things we have to be concerned about is the impact of those arms on the stability of our friends.
JIM LEHRER: Is there a simple way to explain, Mr. Secretary, what the fighting is actually about, who's fighting whom, and why?
SEC. MOOSE: I have to say that frankly what we are looking at are the ambitions of a few faction leaders who have placed their own interests and ambitions above the interests of the Liberian people. We have attempted with the--in support of the ECOMOG economic community of West African States, over the last five years to work towards a framework that would contain that violence. We thought we had one last fall when the accords were assigned in Abuja in Nigeria. Those accords recognized that, indeed, there had to be a role for the faction leaders, but they also recognized that there had to be a role for the normal civilians to allow them to reemerge and play their role. Unfortunately, the fighting has, has seriously set back that process.
JIM LEHRER: Is it fair to say this is not a fight over ideology or philosophy or anything like that?
SEC. MOOSE: This certainly is no ideology recognizable that's involved in this. Unfortunately, one of the things that has happened in this fight over the last six years is the, the increasing use of ethnicity as a rallying cry for the various faction leaders. But even there the--fighting the lines do not break down routinely, and--
JIM LEHRER: What do they say? I mean, I'm a what and let's go get--who's on the what and a them?
SEC. MOOSE: There are several major ethnic groups in Liberia, and one of the problems of the rule in Liberia over the last century is that the divisions among those groups have heightened. There is the Kwang group which is associated with Mr. Roosevelt Johnson, but also with others. There's the Mandingo group which is associated with Mr. Kruma, another one of the members--is a member of the transitional council, and then there's Mister, Mr. Taylor's group, based in the northern part of, of Liberia. But, essentially, I think one has to understand this not even as tribal but as a situation where individuals are pursuing their own political ambitions and doing so through military means.
JIM LEHRER: From the U.S. point of view, are there good guys and bad guys?
SEC. MOOSE: I think at this stage, frankly, the good guys are the people without the guns, and as they--we would like to see their rights protected in all of this. We'd like to see them have an opportunity to assert their choice and their control in this. The Abuja peace process was one that would have seen the progressive disarmament of the faction fighters.
JIM LEHRER: Everybody.
SEC. MOOSE: Everybody.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
SEC. MOOSE: And the beginning of arrangements for elections later this year or early next year that allow the normal average Liberian to have a say in how the country should be governed and by whom.
JIM LEHRER: Of course, that's not--the figure that's being thrown around is that 150,000 people have been killed in the civil war since it began. Does that make sense to you?
SEC. MOOSE: That is a terrible figure. It is only an estimate. I don't think one will ever know exactly how many have suffered, but, indeed, that has been one of the terrible tragedies of this war. The other consequence that we cannot neglect is that this war is sapping and draining the energies and the resources of the neighboring African states as well, states that have made enormous progress over the last decade in economic reform and political reform. Kuptiwar, for example, and Ghana have become among our most rapidly growing export markets in Africa. Sierra Leone next door has just had an election. The results of that election are threatened by this continuing violence in Liberia.
JIM LEHRER: Bill Raspberry, a columnist for the "Washington Post," wrote today that the United States should be strongly supporting these countries rather than doing anything directly to help maybe solve this problem in Liberia, support those countries and let them solve it. Is he right?
SEC. MOOSE: I think he's right. These countries have decided they want to assume greater responsibility for dealing with the failures and the problems in their own neighborhood, and that I think is commendable, and we should support them. We should, and we have supported them. Over the last five years, the United States has provided some $70 million in support for ECOWAS. We've announced--
JIM LEHRER: A group that--
SEC. MOOSE: ECOMOG is the peacekeeping force formed of contingents from member states of the Economic Community of West Africa States. We've announced just recently a willingness to provide another $30 million, but we need also to see some renewed commitment on the part of ECOWAS and of ECOMOG to, to serving their function as a neutral and effective peacekeeping force.
JIM LEHRER: Should we be the least bit optimistic about these talks in Ghana tomorrow and the next day?
SEC. MOOSE: I think we must retain optimism. Certainly, President Rollings of Ghana has made heroic efforts to try to solve this problem. As I indicated, I think we need to be strongly supportive of that effort. I do think that the states of the region are increasingly fed up. They're angry with the warlords in the situation for continuing to create problems not only for Liberia but for the entire sub-region, and I hope that what will come out of this feeling that starts Akraw Ghana tomorrow is a renewed commitment on the part of the member states of ECOWAS but also a determination to take stronger measures to deal with the warlords should they continue to be obstructive in this process.
JIM LEHRER: Including--they were supposed to have been--at one time there were 10,000 peacekeeping troops there. Then it went down to 6,000 or less, is that right?
SEC. MOOSE: That's our understanding.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
SEC. MOOSE: That, contrary to increasing in order to assure the implementation of the peace process, there's actually been a steady almost imperceptible decline of the numbers of ECOWAS--ECOMOG forces. Clearly, that needs to be reversed. That's part of our reason for offering additional support here.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, what--for those who say ask, what is the, the nature of the U.S. commitment to get this thing resolved? Explain what that is.
SEC. MOOSE: I think our commitment is, is, indeed, to continue to do what we can politically, diplomatically, and materially to support ECOWAS and ECOMOG in this effort, but I think we have to recognize as well that this is not strictly speaking an American problem. There are many interests, the interests of the neighboring states, the interests of our partners of the international community. I chaired a meeting just a week ago in Geneva of an international contact group of Liberia. It brings together all of our friends who have a concern here. I think that partnership can make a difference in the support for what ECOWAS is planning to do. And if we can make that work, then there is reason, I still believe, to be optimistic.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
SEC. MOOSE: Thank you very much.