NAIROBI, KENYA — NIGERIA is preparing to lead a military force into Liberia, according to Nigerian and other West African officials. The aim will not be just to rescue its citizens, as United States Marines have just rescued Americans, but also to try to help end the civil war, officials say.
The Nigerian plan is being worked out with other west African nations. Ghana, Guinea and Sierra Leone, are expected to supplement the Nigerian military intervention force.
If this west African force is accepted by the two opposing rebel leaders and the besieged Liberian president, Samuel Doe, it could assume a peacekeeping role, once a cease-fire is declared, analysts say.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), meeting this week in Banjul, Gambia, will consider the intervention plan. Gambian President Dawda Kairaba Jawara says the military force could go into Liberia within a week.
But so far, the main Liberian rebel leader, Charles Taylor, is resisting the plan for a Nigerian-led intervention. And it is not yet clear if ECOWAS will endorse military intervention over Mr. Taylor's objections.
Over the weekend, a senior US official told reporters here in Nairobi that the US was eager to have Africans do more to try to settle conflicts on their continent, including in the war in Liberia.
The official stressed that the US remains ``neutral - behind the scenes and publicly,'' in the Liberian war. In announcing the rescue by Marines Sunday, a White House spokesman in Washington said the operation was solely to get Americans out of the capital, Monrovia.
Herman Cohen, US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, says, ``What the president of the US does not want is to have [US] troops go in and shoot Liberians.'' According to the US State Department there were about 90 US officials and about 300 private citizens in Monrovia when the approximately 225 Marines moved into Monrovia Sunday. By early yesterday, 59 Americans had been flown out by helicopter and the US Embassy had been secured with extra Marines. The rescue operation came shortly after a rival rebel leader, Prince Johnson, said that starting Aug. 6 he would begin arresting foreigners, with the aim of provoking international intervention. Lacking the force to win the war, Mr. Johnson stands to gain time if the war is halted and the conflict internationalized.
In recent weeks, thousands of civilians have found themselves trapped as rebels gradually pressed toward President Doe's last enclave, his well-defended executive mansion.