Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton leaves Saturday (July 19) on a fact-finding trip to Liberia.
Reverend Sharpton says African-Americans have a vested interest in what goes on in Africa. He says he wants to make sure that Liberia does not suffer the same bloodbath as Rwanda and Sudan.
"We want to be able to update ourselves as to what is actually going on on the ground," he explained. "Second, we are meeting with the leaders of the various opposition groups in Ghana and then meeting with President Taylor in Liberia to urge a continuous cease-fire, and to extradite a democratic election process."
Rev. Sharpton, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, dismissed criticism that he's using the Liberian crisis as a campaign photo opportunity, saying he has traveled to several African countries over the years. "So, I have a record of dealing with matters on the African continent when no one in this country would deal with them," Rev. Sharpton said.
Despite the war crimes indictment against Liberian President Charles Taylor, Rev. Sharpton would not say whether he supports President Bush's call for Mr. Taylor to step down.
"Clearly we are concerned about the atrocities that have been alleged against President Taylor," he said. "However, to say 'step down' and not be clear on what would be the replacement and what would be the process, and what is the will of the Liberian people is something we want to talk about; and we want to hear first-hand from opposition leaders and from President Taylor, as well as from people in the peace process."
He said he supports sending U.S. peacekeeping troops to Liberia, but does not support unilateral U.S. involvement.
Reverend Sharpton praised President Bush's recent Africa trip, but said the continent needs much more.