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Record Mixed for African Peacekeeping - 2003-08-04

The Nigerian peacekeeping troops who began arriving in Liberia Monday represent the latest effort by African nations to resolve crises on their own continent. Some experts point out, their record is mixed.

The Nigerian forces were dispatched by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), under U.N. authorization. They are to be joined by troops from Ghana, Mali, Benin and Togo.

African leaders and others outside the continent agree that African countries should take the lead in resolving conflicts like the civil war in Liberia. But human rights groups say the record of recent years indicates the African soldiers are not sufficiently trained and disciplined for the job.

Some are calling for the United States to take the lead in an international peacekeeping mission to Liberia. But the United States has declined to do so, offering only logistical support, at least for now.

That is fine with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. He says African forces should be used to restore order in Liberia. President Obasanjo has called on the west to give the African peacekeepers adequate material and logistical support. They, he says, will do the job.

Ivorian Prime Minister, Seydou Diarra, echoed that sentiment during a news conference in Paris on Friday. Mr. Diarra predicted the West African troops would help bring an end to the suffering in Liberia, where years of clashes between government and rebel forces have killed about 200,000 people, and displaced one and a half million.

But some experts are not so sure. African forces have a spotty peacekeeping record on the continent. West African peacekeepers are working with French troops to support Mr. Diarra's new government in Ivory Coast, and to secure a fragile peace accord. In addition, West African forces are credited with helping to restore a degree of stability in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s.

But human rights groups claim the forces also committed abuses in both countries ranging from extensive looting, to sexual assaults on women in Liberia, to summary executions of suspected rebels in Sierra Leone.

The group Human Rights Watch says those alleged abuses were never investigated, as promised. The organization has written a letter to Ghana's president, John Kufuor, who currently chairs ECOWAS, urging that the promised investigation be done, and that those found guilty be punished.

Another group, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, worries the West African peacekeepers now being dispatched to Liberia also may escape punishment for any excesses they commit.

The head of the Africa program for the International Federation, Marceau Sivieude, notes that like other U.N.-mandated peacekeepers, the African forces are exempt from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court in The Hague.

African peacekeeping missions also face other problems on the continent. In Burundi, two countries participating in the first-ever African Union peacekeeping force, Ethiopia and Mozambique, have only partially deployed their troops for lack of funds. The bulk of the peacekeepers, from South Africa, are only allowed to use their weapons in self-defense. They were not able to stop a series of rebel attacks in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, in July.

In Ivory Coast the African peacekeepers are only funded until November, and so far there are no new international funding commitments.

Even in the new and urgent Liberia effort, Nigeria and other African countries say they need more international funding for the peacekeeping mission. And Ghana's President Kufuor says more peacekeeping troops will be needed in Liberia beyond the initial force, which faces high expectations and a very difficult task in ending the country's nearly 14-year civil war.