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New US Communications System to Facilitate Links During African Crisis - 2002-08-02

The United States is providing West African countries with a special communications system intended to facilitate links in the event of a crisis.

U.S. officials say the $3.2 million satellite communications system will link the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS with 13 of its 15 member countries.

According to the officials, the 13 will each receive five computer work stations that will connect them by satellite 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the Abuja, Nigeria-based ECOWAS headquarters. The work stations will be placed at either the member-country's Ministry of Defense or Ministry of Foreign Affairs or provided to the Chief of Defense.

The officials say the system has already been installed in Abuja at ECOWAS headquarters. The member installations are expected to begin shortly. The only countries not receiving the system are Liberia, which is under international sanctions, and Burkina Faso, because of what an official describes as its links with Liberia.

Officials say the system will reinforce real-time ties between ECOWAS members, especially during a crisis, whether a conflict-type crisis or a humanitarian disaster.

U.S. officials plan to follow up on the actual installation of the system with training and maintenance.

In addition to the communications system, U.S. officials say Washington is prepared to hand over to ECOWAS an estimated $5 million worth of military equipment and spare parts currently stored at a depot in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The equipment includes no weapons but consists mainly of trucks, radios, generators and water purification materials.

Officials say they are in the preliminary phase of discussions with ECOWAS on how to arrange the handover.

They say the donation is intended to facilitate a rapid response by ECOWAS members for regional peace support or humanitarian crisis operations.

Word of the U.S. assistance first emerged during a visit to West Africa by the Deputy Commander of the U.S. European Command, General Carlton Fulford. An ECOWAS communiqué on his visit, however, misstated the value and purpose of the satellite communications system.

The ECOWAS countries have a multinational peacekeeping force known as ECOMOG, or the ECOWAS Monitoring Group. It has been deployed to Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone to deal with conflicts in those nations.