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US Official Travels to Africa to Urge Crackdown on Arms Shipments to Liberia Rebels - 2003-07-29


Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner is flying to West Africa to spearhead U.S. diplomacy on the Liberian crisis. In Guinea Wednesday, he will urge that country and other neighboring states of Liberia to crack down on arms supplies to Liberian rebels.

Officials here are concerned that the fighting in Liberia is sustained at least in part by arms supplies crossing into that country from Guinea and other neighboring states.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Assistant Secretary Kansteiner, the administration's top African affairs expert, will express that concern directly to officials in Conakry.

"We have reason to believe that these rebels are getting their supplies from somewhere," he explained. "They have guns, they have bullets, they have other weapons. These come from somewhere, and they don't get it through the official channels. So that means they're coming from neighboring states. And so we need to talk to neighboring states to do everything they can to prevent that supply and support."

U.S. officials are understood to be particularly troubled by arms traffic through Guinea to the main Liberian rebel group LURD, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, which has taken its offensive against the Charles Taylor government in recent weeks to the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia.

Mr. Kansteiner is expected to go on from Guinea to the Ghanaian capital, Accra, Thursday to represent the United States at a regional summit on the Liberian conflict.

The meeting will focus on efforts to deploy a peacekeeping force led by the West African Regional grouping ECOWAS in Liberia. The Bush administration has promised to support that deployment, though officials say the U.S. role will be limited to logistical help, such as transport, communications and supplies, and will not include combat troops on the ground.

Spokesman Boucher reiterated the U.S. call on President Taylor to live up to pledges to leave the country and said his departure needs to be "coincident" with the arrival of peacekeepers.

He said U.S. diplomats are working at the United Nations on a Security Council Resolution authorizing contributions to the peacekeeping mission.