President Bush, currently in Africa
on a five-day trip to highlight U.S. efforts on the continent,
must now decide whether to join Britain, Pakistan and Nigeria
and a series of West African nations in sending peacekeeping troops
to help stabilize the embattled country.
A country with an American connection
Liberia has a long and complicated relationship with
the United States.
Americans, both emancipated slaves and freeborn individuals, settled
in the area as early as 1822. Many came to coastal West Africa
drawn by the promise of freedom and opportunity. In fact, the
name Liberia means, "land of freedom."
Liberia declared its independence in 1847 and named its capital,
Monrovia, after American President James Monroe. The flag, consisting
of red and white stripes and a blue square in the corner with
one white star, echoes the U.S. flag.
During the early 1900s, U.S. companies exploited Liberian resources,
often at the expense of Liberian financial independence. Liberia
supplied much of the rubber needed as the U.S. automobile industry
Liberia also played a critical role in many of America's conflicts
in the area. The United States used the country, which was strategically
located, as a staging point for supplying troops during World
War II and for the prevention of communism in Africa in the 1980s.
Because of this connection with the U.S., many Liberians have
looked to the U.S. to help and some have criticized the U.S. for
not intervening in their civil war sooner.
A nation in conflict
Although the roots of the civil war go back more than
20 years, the latest fighting erupted four years ago.
The rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development
(LURD) launched a war against the government of Charles Taylor,
rebel leader elected president in 1997.
Many members of LURD fought against Taylor in the civil war in
the early 1990s. At the end of that fighting in 1996, Taylor emerged
the most powerful of the rebel leaders and was elected the next
The Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), an offshoot of
LURD, joined the fighting in early 2003.
Membership in rebel groups often falls along ethnic and cultural
lines: last names frequently determine on which side men and boys
Often refugees fleeing into neighboring countries - even young
children - are recruited by rebel groups or armies across the
region and forced to fight.
"Our status is unclear, the government accuses us of being
rebels, and rebels accuse us of being with the government,"
Dao Kamara, a Liberian refugee who fled to Ivory Coast during
the first wave of fighting back in 1990 told BBC News.
According to the UNHCR, the United Nation's refugee agency, the
most recent fighting near the capital Monrovia has forced thousands
of civilians and refugees from neighboring countries to flee.
Many have moved into the capital to avoid fighting in the countryside.
addition to being caught in the cross fire between rebel groups
and the government, many civilians lack decent living conditions,
food or healthcare. A cholera outbreak is spreading.
The three warring groups had signed a cease-fire agreement on
June 17, but the fighting has since continued. LURD said that
the peace accord promised that Taylor would step down from power
within 30 days. Taylor has denied agreeing to leave.
Will the United States intervene?|
Last week President Bush called for Liberian President
Charles Taylor to step down, but stopped short of committing troops.
But getting Taylor to leave may be complicated by the fact that
he stands indicted of war crimes for his role in the bloody civil
war in neighboring Sierra Leone. The U.N. Special War Crimes Court
has indicted Taylor on 17 counts of crimes against humanity including
mutilations, rape and murder and he fears he will be arrested
if he leaves his country.
President Bush has not yet announced whether he intends to send
peacekeeping troops to civil war-torn Liberia.
"We're in the process of determining what is necessary to
maintain the cease-fire and to allow for a peaceful transfer of
power," the president told reporters.
In a standoff between the two presidents, President Bush has
said that he will not send intervention troops until Taylor steps
down. But Mr. Taylor told the New York Times on Monday that he
would step down only after peacekeeping troops arrive.
Annie Schleicher, Online NewsHour Extra