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US Ambassador Says Liberia Is Facing A "Humanitarian Disaster" - 2002-11-21

The new United States Ambassador to Liberia says there’s a humanitarian disaster in the country. The ambassador made the comment Thursday at his first press conference since taking office two months ago.

Ambassador John Blaney says Liberians - especially young people -- are facing worsening food problems that have compelled him to declare to his government that a humanitarian disaster exists in the country.

He says, “This action should enable the United States to further respond to some of the acute needs on the ground, particularly by legally enabling the U.S. Government’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) as it’s known - to provide additional funding for appropriate programs in Monrovia and elsewhere in Liberia. These could include funding for programs such as infant feeding”.

Ambassador Blaney says since 2001, over 250 thousand Liberians have been displaced as a result of the war between government and rebel troops in northern Lofa County. Among them are vulnerable populations that include women, the elderly and hundreds of thousands of children. Ambassador Blaney says these Liberians have been victims of diseases and constant starvation and mal-nourishment.

The Ambassador says US government wants a speedy end to the conflict.

He repeated the US government’s condemnation of renewed violence in northwestern Liberia. Ambassador Blaney calls on all parties – meaning government and rebel fighters - to exercise restraint, protect innocent civilians and seek dialogue rather than using arms to settle differences.

The ambassador says, “ We also remind both sides to respect the human rights of prisoners of war. There must be no torture or summary executions of captured or wounded soldiers, and the surrender of soldiers on the battlefield should be accepted”.

As part of his government’s desire to see peace return to Liberia, Ambassador Blaney says the US has joined the international contact group put together by the United Nations to stop the war in Liberia. Other countries and regional organizations are members of this contact group.

Ambassador Blaney says United States goal is to develop a stronger peace process.

Commenting on Liberia’s human rights situation, the US envoy restated Washington’s call on the Taylor administration for the release of all political prisoners. They include Journalist Hassan Bility and others held without access to lawyers, the civil courts or independent observers.

He says, “Their continued incarceration is a violation of international standards of human rights and legal protection, and contrary to Liberia’s basic legal principles”.

The US diplomat also commented on Liberia’s 20 03 presidential & general elections. He challenges the Taylor administration to make conditions conducive for possible political challengers – such as improving security for political opponents.

Ambassador Blaney describes these concerns as legitimate, which the Liberian government must address.

He says, “These security concerns are very important – because you have to have candidates being able to run their campaigns, make their speeches, develop constituencies, have rallies without fear of ending up in the jail cell. That’s absolutely fundamental for political freedom. And we’re not there yet. So, the United States is not going to participate in these sought of fraud. We will participate in a fair & free election and we will help support it. But I’ve got to see some steps - and the United States has to see some steps forward that we’ve not seen yet”.

US embassy officials here say the Thursday press conference is the start of a monthly meeting with journalists by Ambassador Blaney to give the media greater access to the views of the United States.