Don't Forget Liberia

WARRING Liberian factions, meeting in the capital of Ghana last month, failed to reach an agreement on the makeup of a new five-member council of states, or collective presidency.

It was the third round of talks to try to rescue the ``Akosombo accord'' to end five years of civil war in the ravaged country. The accord was signed Sept. 12 but never implemented. Numerous peace accords have already failed, but the Liberians will try again Dec. 12. Ghana officials say the talks are the last chance for peace in Liberia.

If the factions can agree on the main sticking point - the council of states - chances are fair for continued progress. If not, the United Nations warns it may pull out of its peace mission later this year. And if that happens, a battle for control of Monrovia, Liberia's capital, is likely. Many say the country could become the next Rwanda. After all, if the factions can't resolve the smaller problems they face, it is unlikely they can tackle the larger and more complicated ones, such as disarmament.

Much of the credit for getting Liberia to this point in the negotiations goes to the government of Ghana. But many of the countries contributing to the African peacekeeping forces (ECOMOG) in Liberia have become discouraged. Until recently, Monrovia was protected by 12,000 Nigerian troops. Recently, that country removed at least 400 of its troops for economic and logistical reasons.

The main factions involved in the peace talks are the United Liberation Movement in Liberia (known as Ulimo); the Armed Forces of Liberia; and the National Patriotic Front, led by Charles Taylor. In 1989, Mr. Taylor set off the conflict by leading a small force into Liberia from Ivory Coast to overthrow dictator Samuel Doe.

These three factions and a number of smaller ones are accused of serious human rights abuses, including hospital bombings, rapes, and countless slayings. Most disturbing is the large number of young victims, both war orphans and child soldiers.

The international community (the African nations but also the United States and others) must not give up on Liberia. Liberia recognizes that, ultimately, it has to work out any resolution itself. But we must remember that the country is no less important than other trouble spots around the world. The African peacekeeping forces need financial aid and the conflict needs careful attention.

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