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US Military Experts Arrive in Liberia to Assess Deployment - 2003-07-07


A team of U.S. military experts is in Liberia to assess the possible deployment of American troops as part of an international peacekeeping force. A dozen heavily armed Marines and what U.S. officials are calling a humanitarian assistance survey team are in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

Liberia's four-year conflict has displaced about one million people, one-third of its population.

The U.S. ambassador in Liberia, John Blaney, explained to reporters that the initial mission of the U.S. team will focus on humanitarian needs.

"We will be taking the team around to see various places where displaced persons and refugees are and what their needs are as you know the president has emphasized that we are concerned greatly about the humanitarian situation here in Liberia," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush, who visits Africa this week, faces intense international pressure to send U.S. troops to help end the conflict. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says it wants the United States to contribute 2,000 soldiers to a 5,000 member force.

A ceasefire calling for Liberian President Taylor to step down has been holding since last week. Rebels control most of Liberia, but not Monrovia.

Mr. Taylor said Sunday he has accepted an asylum offer in Nigeria, but he did not say when he would go. He said he would like his departure to be organized in an "orderly fashion" so chaos can be avoided.

Mr. Taylor also thanked the international community for stepping in to help end the Liberian conflict.

"I want to express my thanks to ECOWAS, the European Union and the international community and even more particularly the president George Bush that apparently has remained seized of the Liberian crisis," said Mr. Taylor.

President Bush has called for Mr. Taylor to leave Liberia immediately. Mr. Taylor has been reluctant to do so because he also faces arrest following indictment for war crimes last month by a special court in Sierra Leone. He is accused by the court of creating instability throughout west Africa by smuggling weapons, diamonds, and timber since he launched his own rebellion 15 years ago

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