A United Nations Security Council delegation begins a mission to West Africa Thursday, in an effort to end the violence in strife-torn Liberia. The mission, led by Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, intends to press Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down.
Officials have yet to determine whether it is safe for Security Council diplomats to travel to Liberia. And the diplomats have not yet decided whether they will try to meet with Liberian President Charles Taylor.
British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock says if such a meeting does take place, the Security Council will call on Mr. Taylor to leave office immediately.
"It is time for a change, it is time to put the Liberian people first, is the message I think we need to get across with the greatest strength," he said.
The Liberian crisis is escalating as the Security Council delegation departs on its planned 10-day trip. Rebels and forces loyal to Mr. Taylor are fighting for control of the captial, Monrovia.
Earlier this month in Ghana, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, brokered a cease-fire agreement with rebel groups, paving the way for a transitional government that excludes Mr. Taylor. The rebels say they only signed the ceasefire agreement after getting assurances Mr. Taylor would step down immediately. The Liberian president is also under indictment by a U.N.-backed tribunal for war crimes in Sierra Leone.
Ambassador Greenstock says the Security Council can exert pressure, but the solution must come from within Africa.
"The region needs to own the politics of the Liberia tragedy and we are there in a supportive capacity. But the Security Council can generate weight behind the action of political players in the region," he said.
But the British diplomat notes that foreign forces have previously played a crucial role in the region, noting British troops in Sierra Leone and French forces in Ivory Coast have recently helped stabilize deadly conflicts. Mr. Greenstock says the Security Council would welcome intervention by Washington in Liberia, which was founded by former U.S. slaves.
"If there was a lead nation that was prepared to take action in Liberia of a kind that would make a political settlement more likely and a ceasefire more likely to stick then I think that would be very broadly welcomed internationally," he said.
During the Security Council mission, which was postponed last month, the diplomats will meet with members of the Economic Community of West African States. Council members are scheduled to visit Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Discussions are expected to focus on the protection of civilians, the recruitment of children in armed conflict, and violence against women and children.
In addition to concentrating on Liberia, U.N. diplomats plan to focus much of their visit on the situation in Guinea-Bissau and Ivory Coast. The Security Council has urged leaders in Guinea-Bissau to prioritize humanitarian and peace-building agendas before holding parliamentary elections. In Ivory Coast, a French-mediated agreement in January helped end the war and established a new government, but the situation remains fragile.
The mission to West Africa comes just weeks after Security Council diplomats traveled to war-torn Central African nations.