MONROVIA, Liberia – U.N. Security Council members and West African leaders started trying to assemble a peace force for warring Liberia (search) on Sunday, renewing calls for the United States to contribute troops.
Ambassadors from the 15-nation council were in Nigeria (search) on Sunday, discussing that nation's possible participation in such a force. Nigeria, whose military is the region's largest and best-trained, would be expected to play a key role in any peacekeeping mission in Liberia.
West Africa has said it is prepared to take the lead in solving Liberia's crisis but it would like help from the United States, which has strong ties to Liberia, a West African nation founded by freed American slaves.
"It's their baby, and they have a responsibility there," Cameroon U.N. Ambassador Martin Chungong Ayafor said.
Washington has shown no inclination to contribute Americans for an international peace force to stand between Liberia's rebels and President Charles Taylor (search), an indicted U.N. war crimes suspect who has broken repeated peace pacts.
On Sunday, the United States reiterated calls for the armed parties to honor a cease-fire agreement they signed on June 17. A State Department spokeswoman, Amanda Batt, said the United States was ready to participate in monitoring efforts.
President Bush made similar comments Thursday when he also called for Taylor to step down.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked the Security Council on Saturday for an international peace force for Liberia, where artillery, rockets and arms fire killed an estimated 500 trapped civilians last week as rebels battled Taylor's forces for control of the capital.
In Monrovia, Taylor toured battle-devastated western neighborhoods Sunday in a bulletproof Mercedes under guard of machine guns and rocket-launchers, driving down what had been rebels' route into the city.
Taylor thanked his rag-tag, largely unpaid fighters for their "gallantry," but ordered them to stop nighttime robberies and shooting that continue to panic the city.
Refugees streaming home to western neighborhoods after the four-day-long rebel siege waved, or stared only.
After 14 years of Taylor's conflicts, many looked past Taylor for rescue.
"We don't trust both sides. They can clash any time," said Saybah Kollie, her family's foam mattress on her head, making her way back home after taking refuge near the U.S. Embassy during the street battles between rebels and government. "We need an outside force to come in, and guarantee that a cease-fire hold."
"America should take the lead," said Sando Moore, managing editor of Monrovia's New National daily. "If they don't like Taylor, that doesn't mean that they should turn their back to Liberia."
France, Britain and others, like Annan, have called for a U.S.-led force for Liberia.
West Africa's regional bloc separately has promised to place a 5,000-troop peace force between Liberia's warring sides once they commit to a true cease-fire.
"We will as usual be able to lead this effort, but we need material support, and in fact would need some participation of some members of the Security Council -- no doubt the United States -- as additional partners to solve the problems in Liberia," said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, executive secretary of the West African regional bloc.
In urging Washington to get involved, the international community has pointed to France's and Britain's effectiveness in quelling conflicts in their former West African colonies.
"As France is to Ivory Coast and Britain is to Sierra Leone, the United States is to Liberia," Ayafor, the Cameroon ambassador, said Sunday.
As well as being founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century, Liberia had strong U.S. trade and aid ties up to the end of the Cold War, when it served as a leading U.S. base for intelligence activity against Moammar Gadhafi's Libya.
While Liberians still see themselves as having a special bond with the United States, few Americans are aware of the link.
Taylor has made no mention of Bush's call to resign. Instead, he has joined his people in urging an international force and politely urged the United States to become involved.
Taylor declared during peace talks this month that he "intended" to cede power in the interest of peace, and his government signed the June 17 accord calling for a transitional government without Taylor.
Taylor reneged a week later, saying that he would serve until the January end of his term and yield power even then only to his vice president.
That declaration was followed by the fiercest rebel attack yet on the capital, from Tuesday to Friday. Rebels have fought a three-year-old war to oust Taylor.
U.N. sanctions and a U.N.-war crimes indictment announced June 4 accuse Taylor of gun-running and other trafficking with insurgent groups blamed in conflicts in many of Liberia's neighbors.