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U.S. Debating Sending Troops to Help Liberian Civil War

Aired July 2, 2003 - 19:15   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. U.S. troops could be headed for Liberia. Senior U.S. officials tell CNN that President Bush has been discussing a plan to contribute between 500 and 1,000 Americans to a multinational peacekeeping force. An announcement we're told could come as early as tomorrow. Earlier today President Bush spoke with reporters about the situation in Liberia. He didn't address the possibility of sending in troops but he did call on Liberian President Charles Taylor whose blamed for much of the violence there, to leave the country. Listen.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One thing has to happen Mr. Taylor needs to leave the country, and Colin has made that -- I've made it clear publicly. I just made it clear. He made it clear for Kofi Annan. In order for there to be peace and stability in Liberia, Charles Taylor needs to leave now.


COOPER: Although the U.S. and Liberia are an ocean apart the two countries have historic ties and some say America has a moral obligation to intervene in Liberia's bloody civil war -- that's what some say. National security correspondent David Ensor reports now on the west African hot spot some have called "America's stepchild".


DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: All it took were rumors the U.S. might intervene to stop the bloodshed and there was rejoicing in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, which was named after American President James Monroe. With a flag and a constitution modeled on the American one, the west African nation of Liberia has always looked to the United States for help, ideas and back in 1847, for its founders.

SALIN BOOKER, AFRICA ACTION: It was created by freed American slaves who were sent to essentially establish a colony in west Africa.

ENSOR: Liberia's embattled leader now is Charles Taylor, Libyan trained, a Baptist preacher, diamond dealer, and recently an indicted war criminal for his alleged role in citing slaughters and civil war in News; Domestic Sierra Leone.

CHARLES TAYLOR: I think the U.S. ought to come in now. Using my strengthen my popularity, and my legitimacy and work and bring peace to Liberia. ENSOR: It was Taylor back in 1990 whose rebel group invaded Liberia overthrowing and killing then President Samuel Doe. Since then at least a third of the nation's 3 million people have become refugees fleeing the fighting.

Back in 1990 then President Bush the elder decided against intervening militarily to stop suffering in Liberia. Only limited U.S. forces went in, just enough to protect the U.S. embassy and help Americans and Europeans to evacuate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, now we have a situation that almost is a complete replica of what we saw in 1990. And we fear the White House may be doing the same thing, in other words, stalling until the situation resolves itself even if violently.

ENSOR: Since the bodies of some American soldiers were dragged through the streets in Somalia, American presidents have been even more hesitant than before to intervene in Africa. The 1994 massacre in Rwanda, for example, prompt no intervention.

Activists like Sally Booker argue, the U.S., a nation whose military is disproportionately staffed by African-Americans, should take on its share of peace keeping duties in Africa just as France and Britain have recently done. David Encore, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well we're joined by Reed Kramer, he's the Ceci of the African News Agency, a non-profit U.S. based news service, he joins us from Washington. Reed thanks for being with us. You know it's almost sad seeing those pictures from Monrovia where people rejoice in the streets just at the mention of the possibility U.S. troops might get there and a lot of Liberians say they're the step child of America, but a lot of Americans would say I don't know about Liberia. Why are they calling themselves the step child? Why in your opinion should the U.S. intervene?

REED KRAMER, CEO AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY: Well I think whatever Americans think about Liberia or don't think about Liberia, as you said, people in the rest of the world, not only in Liberia, regard that country as a U.S. responsibility. They see it as staunch ally throughout the Cold War and throughout its history so there will be a great deal of disappointment and unhappiness I think in lots of places if the United States doesn't play some kind of leadership role. That will be felt by President Bush when he's in Africa next week.

COOPER: Reed, to a lot of people it sounds like Somalia all over again. I was in Somalia before the U.S. got there and there was a ground swell of people saying this is a humanitarian crisis, the U.S. those do something, and then when U.S. troops got on the ground there, the whole situation changed around. Is this a quagmire like that could be described as?

KRAMER: Well the similarity is the humanitarian disaster that's taking place, but there are a lot of differences. There weren't Somalia factions then calling for U.S. to intervene and as your report noted everyone involved in this conflict wants the U.S. there as well as the Liberian Podesta. So that's a significant difference.

This is the place where a small U.S. presence can make a large difference and I think that's what's being weighed at the White House right now.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, they're talking about 500 to 1,000 troops, a very small presence, indeed. Part of a largely west African peace keeping force.

CNN recently did an interview with the President Charles Taylor of Liberia. I want to play you some of it of what he said. President Bush has called for him to step down. Here's what he said.


CHARLES TAYLOR, PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA: As I listen to President Bush he says President Charles Taylor needs to step down. I think he said that in good faith. I think he genuinely has Liberia at heart and the people and he would like for the president of the country to make the necessary decisions in line with what he said to make sure that we avoid a blood bath in the country. I think we're on the same line.


COOPER: Brief he is not. But I mean, this guy is an indicted war criminal. Where is he going to go? I mean if he steps down, I mean his life could probably be measured in a couple hours, couldn't it?

KRAMER: Well, I think his life has been in danger for some time because it's a very, very difficult situation there, but there are talks about a deal being worked out for him to go to Nigeria and that could happen. I'm sure that's part of the negotiations.

The point is that there's consensus on two matters now. One, that people want the United States to get in there to help the west Africans who are taking the lead in resolving this, and two there's a pretty wide consensus that Charles Taylor needs to go.

COOPER: Alright Reed Kramer, appreciate you joining us. Thanks you very much.


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