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Support Wavers For Peacekeeping Effort in Liberia


PUBLIC support in Nigeria and Ghana for the ongoing West African intervention in Liberia's civil war appears to be weakening.

Critics in both countries, the principle sources of troops for Africa's first peacekeeping effort, cite the loss of soldiers' lives and the financial burden intervention is posing for their already poor economies. There are calls for United Nations intervention.

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"Our resources are limited," said Ghana's deputy foreign minister, Mohammed ibn Chambas, in an interview in the capital, Accra. "That becomes a major constraint. We'll stay there [in Liberia] as long as we can bear the sacrifice."

Regionally, despite public statements of unity at a recent summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria, member countries sponsoring troops in Liberia harbor deep resentment against Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast for their alleged military support of Liberia's main rebel leader, Charles Taylor.

Burkina Faso is accused of having shipped arms from Libya through Ivory Coast to Liberia to help Mr. Taylor in 1990. Earlier this month, the United States recalled its ambassador to Burkina Faso in protest over its alleged continuing support for Taylor.

"Why do we have Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast still continuing to support Charles Taylor?" asks Ghana's former Army commander, retired Gen. Emmanuel Erskine.

When civil war engulfed Liberia in 1990, ECOWAS sent armed monitors known as ECOMOG to protect the capital, Monrovia, from Taylor's rebels. The country has been at a stalemate ever since, with ECOMOG in control of Monrovia and Taylor in control of most of the rest of the country. Fierce fighting broke out anew when Taylor launched a campaign on the capital Oct. 15.

"A lot of people are observing" the battles, says Chuma Mwosu of the Constitutional Rights Project, a human rights group in Lagos, Nigeria. If ECOMOG defeats Taylor and the peace process is accelerated, Nigerians now critical of their military's involvement in Liberia may temper their criticism, he says.

In Nigeria, recent editorials and opinion pieces by prominent, independent writers have questioned the cost and length of time involved in keeping Nigerian troops in Liberia.

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"A lot of people were not sure of the purpose of going [into Liberia]," Mr. Mwosu says. "ECOMOG seemed helpless."

At an ECOWAS summit earlier this month, Nigeria's head of state, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, stressed the need to stay the course in Liberia until peace is achieved. "Peace in Liberia is the key to development in West Africa," he said.

Mwosu calls such arguments "government propaganda." He says many Nigerians feel the peacekeeping mission in Liberia is too costly. "Nigeria has a lot of economic problems," he says.

A former military officer in Ghana offers a similar view. "We are losing a lot of men," he says, asking not to be named. He says many members of Ghana's military feel that ECOMOG should have brought an end to the war by now, and that continuing the operation is "a massive drain" on the economy.

With ECOMOG drawn further and further into combat in recent weeks, Ghana's General Erskine has argued that a neutral group, such as the UN, is now needed to enforce peace in Liberia.

"ECOMOG should pull out ... because its troops have lost their neutrality," Erskine says. "In peacekeeping, once you lose your impartiality, you lose your objectivity. You become part of the problem." He says that Taylor does not trust Nigeria or Ghana to be neutral in their peacekeeping efforts.

The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution Nov. 19 calling for a world arms embargo on Liberia. The resolution allows use of arms to back up the embargo. But a separate Council vote would be required to authorize such force. Without it, the embargo is largely symbolic, given Liberia's porous borders with Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

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