Early deployment of troops essential to ending suffering in Liberia UN envoy

Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, Jacques Klein, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s new Special Representative for Liberia, painted a grave picture of the current situation in and around the country’s war-torn capital city. Looting and robbery are widespread and reports of human rights violations are persistent, he said.Highlighting the dramatic deterioration of what was already one of the world’s worst humanitarian situations, Mr. Klein said that since fighting reached Monrovia early last month, at least 250,000 people had been displaced and were now scattered among at least 80 makeshift settlements around the capital. Desperate people, suffering form diseases like malaria and cholera, were unable to even forage for food because they fear for their lives.”The situation calls for quick and concerted international action to address the human suffering,” said Mr Klein. “The first step is obviously the reestablishment of secure conditions in which humanitarian agencies can operate, so the key is the early deployment of the advanced guard of West African troops.”Mr. Klein said United States President George W. Bush had assured the Secretary-General during meetings held in Washington earlier in the week that he is committed to helping in what would clearly be a “sequence process” to restoring order in Liberia.”The American side is looking to ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] to go in first,” he said, adding that once sufficient West African troops are on the ground, there could then conceivably be a US presence, at which point Liberian President Charles Taylor would leave the country, “hopefully for Nigeria.””Then over the next two months or so, we hope that a safe and secure environment could be established so we could then set up a peacekeeping mission sometime later this fall, said Mr. Klein, noting that he was now in the process of assembling the team to carry out a basic assessment of what sized civilian, military and police restructuring components such a mission would require.Asked if “two months or so” of transition meant the US would stay only for that long, Mr. Klein said he did not know, because the US had not made a commitment yet to actually go. “ECOWAS needs to move quickly,” he said, “that is the key.” ECOWAS units had been trained and should be ready. The US would not make their decision before ECOWAS troops were deployed.Responding to several question about the projected departure of President Taylor, Mr. Klein said it was his understanding that he would leave the day the US arrived. Hopefully he would go to Nigeria, where he would play a “less visible” role. The danger was, however, someone with a cell phone in Nigeria still manipulating things abroad. That would not help stabilize the situation in Liberia. “Real constraints would need to be in place,” he added.Mr. Klein said Liberia’s Vice President was expected to take charge and there would be an interim government for a period of time. There were many people in the diaspora who would like nothing more than to return and aid in the process of reconstruction. It would take some two years to rebuild Liberia’s infrastructure in terms of political parties ahead of eventual elections, which would allow the Liberian people, for the first time in many years, to determine their own future. read more