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IN THE NEWS - August 2, 2003: West African Peacekeepers to Go to Liberia - 2003-08-01

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program In the News.

West African countries say they will send peacekeeping troops to Liberia on Monday to help end the conflict there. The agreement was reached Thursday. It followed an emergency meeting in Ghana of the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS.

About one-thousand-five-hundred Nigerian troops are to arrive in Liberia as the first part of the peacekeeping force. Ghana, Mali, Benin, Senegal and Togo agreed to provide three-thousand more troops later.

The West African leaders also said President Charles Taylor is to leave Liberia within three days of the arrival of peacekeeping troops. The United States and other countries have demanded that he leave the country. Mister Taylor has accepted an offer of exile in Nigeria.

Over the past few weeks, Mister Taylor has said several times that he would resign and leave Liberia.

West African leaders arrived Friday in Monrovia, the capital, to negotiate Mister Taylor’s resignation. But reports said he was in Buchanan, in southeastern Liberia. His forces have been fighting rebels in that port city.

West African leaders have been under pressure to speed the deployment of a peacekeeping force to Liberia. Two rebel groups have fought for the past three years to oust the president. Also, Mister Taylor is charged with war crimes. He is accused of supporting rebels across the border in Sierra Leone.

The rebels in Liberia renewed their offensive against Mister Taylor's government in early June. They later signed a cease-fire agreement. But fighting has increased in the past two weeks.

Aid groups say more than one-thousand civilians have died in the fighting. Thousands have been forced from their homes. The unrest has cut off supplies of food and clean water to Monrovia. That city has more than one million people.

West African leaders have been talking about how to pay for a peacekeeping operation in Liberia. Military officials estimate a cost of more than one-hundred-million dollars to have peacekeeping troops in Liberia for six months. The United States already has promised to pay ten-million dollars to support the troops.

The United States is under pressure to intervene. It has close ties with Liberia. Liberia was founded in eighteen-forty-seven as a homeland for freed American slaves.

Earlier this week, the Bush administration proposed a resolution in the United Nations. The resolution calls for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to Liberia. The United States also has directed three ships with Marines to Liberia.

President Bush said the Marines would provide limited support for a joint force of West African and United Nations troops. But Mister Bush says Charles Taylor must leave the country and a cease-fire must be in place before that happens.

This VOA Special English program, In the News, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.