U.S. lawmakers are concerned about continuing instability in Liberia, amid the latest reports of fighting in the capital, Monrovia. A House of Representatives committee heard Thursday from the top U.S. official for Africa, Walter Kansteiner, who said the Bush administration has not wavered in its commitment to help bring about an end to Liberia's civil war.
The chairman of the Africa subcommittee, Congressman Ed Royce, opened the hearing by noting that Liberia has been virtually destroyed by factional fighting.
Mr. Royce spent most of the rest of his statement drawing attention to what he called the continuing threat posed by former president Charles Taylor.
Mr. Taylor accepted an offer of asylum in Nigeria. But United Nations officials have warned he is attempting to keep involved in Liberia.
Calling Mr. Taylor a cancer threatening regional stability, Congressman Royce spelled out what he thinks needs to be done. "Today I am asking the Nigerian government to turn Charles Taylor over to the special court [in Sierra Leone]," he said. "We should also be looking at returning the tens of millions of dollars that he has stolen from the Liberian people."
Assistant Secretary Walter Kansteiner pointed out that the United States has urged Nigeria to watch Mr. Taylor carefully, and to consider transferring him to the court in Sierra Leone.
He said restoring security in Liberia, and disarming and demobilizing rebel groups, will be a key to success. "I assure you the United States will remain involved. We are going to support the peacekeepers and we are going to help restructure and train a new, professional Liberian army," he said.
Some members of Congress are still skeptical about the Bush administration commitment. Some, principally African-American, lawmakers say Liberia will need much more than the $200 million the administration estimates will be required in 2004.
Congresswoman Babara Lee, one of several legislators who want money for Liberia added to President Bush's request for $87 billion to fund U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said, "Eighty-seven billion [for Iraq and Afghanistan] showed up from nowhere. Why can't we advocate, I think we need at least $500 million [for Liberia] for 2004. Why can't we just shave off $500 million off that $87 billion?"
Also testifying Thursday was Nohn Kidau, who heads an exile group called the Movement for Democratic Change in Liberia. "I ask that the United States [to] take the lead and play an role in the future of Liberia, and that the United States of America backs up its role and leadership with the necessary resources so peace and stability can come to Liberia and Liberia can be used as a showcase for democracy in all of Africa," said Nohn Kidau.
The last U.S. ground soldiers left Liberia this week. United Nations officials say at least 15 countries have so far expressed willingness to send troops to join West African peacekeepers as part of what the U.N. hopes will be a 15,000-strong force.