U.S. Wants U.N. to Lead Way in Liberia

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The United States has moved to speed deployment of a multinational force to war-ravaged Liberia, but said it will not lead the military operation.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte introduced a resolution Wednesday asking the U.N. Security Council to authorize the international force, and to quickly replace it with a U.N. peacekeeping force by Oct. 1.

At the same time, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged West African nations to announce the date for the deployment of the troops they are assembling. He said he is worried that the delay is worsening the plight of regular Liberians.

The United Nations, African countries and others have pressed Washington to lead the force to help end a conflict between troops loyal to President Charles Taylor and rebels trying to oust him — but the draft resolution does not mention U.S. troops participating.

Negroponte made clear that the United States wants the troops from the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS (search), to lead the multinational force. He said the United States could provide support to ECOWAS and the United Nations.

President Bush said Wednesday the conditions he set for a Liberian rescue mission still exist: "Charles Taylor must go, cease-fire must be in place, and we will be there to help ECOWAS."

About 2,000 U.S. Marines are expected to arrive off Liberia's shores in the next two or three days, but U.S. officials have indicated in recent days that most may never go ashore. The United States was instead leaning toward providing a small group of troops to coordinate logistics, communications and transportation, they said.

Six African countries — Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Benin, Senegal and Togo — have promised 3,250 troops for an eventual 5,000-strong force, according to a statement Wednesday by ECOWAS.

The West African group is asking the United States, South Africa, Morocco and Ethiopia to round out the force, although no commitments have yet been made by those countries.

"The Nigerians, or ECOWAS ... should indicate to us today what the D-day should be for the deployment of the forces," Annan told a news conference Wednesday.

Disputes over funding the emergency mission are partly to blame. Debt-strapped Nigeria (search) has offered to lead the force and provide two battalions with about 1,500 troops but says it needs help with what it expects to be a multimillion-dollar daily tab.

"Ten million dollars was offered by the U.S., which, obviously, the Nigerians have indicated is not enough," Annan said.

The secretary-general said he proposed that the Security Council (search) allow the United Nations to use money from the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone to move one battalion of Nigerian troops into Liberia quickly — and to support two Nigerian battalions for a limited period.

The U.S. draft resolution would authorize the U.N. mission in Sierra Leone (search) to provide logistical support to ECOWAS for a limited period. It would establish a multinational force to support a cease-fire and help establish security after Taylor's departure.

Council diplomats said one sticking point was a provision to exempt anyone in the multinational force from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, a body opposed by the United States. Negroponte said some were worried Oct. 1 is too soon for a U.N. force to take over.

Council experts met late Wednesday to go over the text and diplomats predicted a vote later this week or early next week.