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Liberian Rebels Ask For Immediate US Deployment - 2003-07-15

Liberian rebels are again asking for the immediate deployment of U-S forces to end the civil war in the west African nation founded by freed American slaves. Their renewed plea comes after President Bush said Monday the deployment of a small U-S force was possible but only after west African peacekeepers arrive.

Rebel envoys at peace talks in Ghana Tuesday said the presence of U-S soldiers would immediately defuse the situation in Liberia.

They also say U-S troops should arrive before west African peacekeepers, who are scheduled to deploy in the coming weeks. One rebel envoy is quoted as saying new faces were needed for what he called psychological comfort.

West African peacekeepers sent to Liberia during the 1990s failed to stop fighting then. Liberia has seen nearly 15 years of continuous civil war since President Charles Taylor launched his own rebellion.

Monday, rebel field commanders warned they will take over the capital Monrovia, if they launch a new offensive.

A cease-fire reached at the talks in Ghana last month calls for the establishment of a transitional government without Mr. Taylor, but the Liberian president says peacekeepers should arrive before he leaves power.

Both the rebels and Mr. Bush have called on Mr. Taylor to leave Liberia immediately.

Mr. Taylor has been offered political asylum in Nigeria, but if he goes there, he could face the threat of arrest on an indictment for war crimes by a special court in Sierra Leone.

A former U-N expert who recommended international sanctions against Liberia during the late 1990s, Ian Smillie, says he does not believe the indictment interferes with peace efforts.

He says, "I'm not sure that the indictment has anything to do with efforts for peace. This is an indictment but it's not a conviction. What the special court wants is to get Charles Taylor into the courtroom. Charles Taylor has got his own back to the wall militarily and that's got nothing to do with the indictment or anything else."

Rebels control most of Liberia, but have been unable to capture Monrovia during their four-year insurgency.

Mr. Taylor, whose own forces greatly outnumber the rebels, has warned if the indictment is not lifted, peace efforts will fail. He has denied charges he has fueled instability throughout west Africa, including Sierra Leone but also Ivory Coast and Guinea, by supporting rebels and smuggling diamonds, timber and weapons.