SLUG: 3-738 Liberia
The fight between rebel fighters and the Liberian military has been getting deadlier. Liberia's Defense Minister says at least 600 civilians have been killed in the latest round of fighting in the capital and is blaming the international community for the growing civilian death toll. VOA's James Butty gives us the details.
And now joining us to discuss the situation in Liberia, James Butty, a reporter for VOA's English to Africa service and a Washington correspondent for West Africa magazine. Mr. Butty was also born in Liberia, so you're the perfect person to talk to us a little bit about what's going on. The U.N. spokesman said it was a deteriorating situation. Is it getting much worse in your view?
That is true I would say. An hour ago I spoke with the Liberian Defense Minister by telephone, and he indicated that the situation was getting worse. In fact, he said the rebels were continuing to shell from the direction of the Free Port of Monrovia. The Minister denied that it was the Liberian Government forces that shelled the U.S. embassy. He indicated that his proof was that the Liberian Government did not have these kind of heavy artillery that the rebels were using, because the Liberian Government, he said, has been under a U.N. arms embargo, so it could not have shelled the U.S. embassy with such heavy artillery. And so therefore his plea was that the embargo should be lifted.
His said President Taylor is willing to leave Liberia once the peacekeepers come in.
But that could be a while and the refugee situation is getting worse. A lot are flooding into Monrovia. This situation appears to be getting worse by the day.
That is true. In fact, the Defense Minister confirmed that. He said that contrary to reports yesterday, about 600 people have been killed. I asked him specifically, that people are saying that everything that is happening now would not happen if President Taylor leaves the country, that he leave. And he said now you have the proof. What if President Taylor leaves without the peacekeepers coming in?
Also an hour ago I spoke to in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, where the ECOWAS defense chiefs are meeting, I spoke with General Cheikh Oumar Diarra. He is in charge of ECOWAS political and military affairs. They are meeting there to talk about how quickly ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, can send in their peacekeepers that they promised they would.
General Diarra told me that he would be talking to me later after the meeting ends today. But a week ago I spoke to him, and he said that the West Africans are ready. They are determined to handle their own conflicts. All they want is some guarantee of logistical and financial support. They don't want to make the same mistake that was made in the 1990's. The West Africans took it upon themselves to go into Liberia in 1990. They sent in peacekeepers. They were promised by the international community all kinds of assistance. That never came through.
And Nigeria, which is the biggest country there in West Africa, they are footing about $4 billion of the cost of those peacekeepers.
Let's talk for a moment about the feelings on the streets of Monrovia. Is there some frustration with the United States? The Bush administration has been contemplating whether to send peacekeeping forces but hasn't yet. Is there some frustration on the streets?
There is frustration. I think you may have seen yesterday the news footage from Monrovia, where people were taking dead bodies and piling them before the U.S. embassy. That's the extent of the frustration that Liberians are feeling. People say, well, why can't the West Africans do it?
I hear people here in the United States presenting all kinds of doomsday scenarios, that if the United States goes in there, if we sent peacekeepers, they'll come back, because the conflict there is getting to be too much and we don't want Americans dying. Well, if you look at Liberia and the United States, they've had good relations going back to the early 1800's, when these freed slaves left and went to Liberia. They ruled that country.
And during this time, Liberia supported the United States. During the Cold War, Liberia was there supporting the United States. The Firestone Rubber Company signed a 99-year deal to upgrade rubber farms in Liberia. And the rubber farm is still there. So if you look to all these connections, people say, well, it's about time that the United States stand up for its friend. That's the extent of the frustration.
There is frustration certainly, and an ongoing difficult military situation between rebels and government troops in Monrovia. A tough situation. James Butty, a reporter for VOA's English to Africa service and a correspondent for West Africa magazine, giving us some details and some excellent reporting in the last hour or so to give us some of those details. We appreciate that so much. Thanks very much, Mr. Butty, for being with us.
My pleasure. Thank you.
(End of interview.)
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