West Africans' Controversial Role

Rebels, regional states concerned over Nigerian control of force

A WEST African peacekeeping force - composed of troops from Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Gambia - disembarked here in Liberia on Aug. 26 with the stated goals of securing a cease-fire, installing an interim government, and overseeing elections. But instead of keeping the peace, the force has become entwined in the conflict, and international concern has grown over the prospects for finding a resolution.

Composed of troops from member states of the Economic Community of West African States, the force was sent despite a failure to gain support for the action from all ECOWAS members, as required by the organization's charter. Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, and Togo have openly denounced the ECOWAS initiative.

Faced with the failure to achieve a cease-fire, Ghanaian Gen. Arnold Quainoo, leader of the peacekeeping force, determined that the force had to intervene directly in the fighting. Rebels captured President Samuel Doe from the headquarters of the ECOWAS force and killed him, damaging the credibility of the West African force.

A Nigerian general, Joshua Dogonyaro, has since replaced the Ghanaian as head of the force. Controversy has developed as Nigeria, the region's most powerful state, has taken a larger role in the conflict.

Less than a month after its deployment, the force joined with another rebel faction to oppose Mr. Taylor, leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia.

Burkina Faso has for a long time been known to be providing military assistance to Mr. Taylor's rebel group. Supporters in the Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, and Gambia have also supplied Taylor.

Unable to secure Monrovia, and losing ground, Taylor has installed himself in what he calls the new capital of Gbarnga, where he is forming the administrative backbone of his government.

``As far as I am concerned the war is over,'' he said in an interview. Yet he has demonstrated his hostility to ``outside invading forces'' and a determination to fight to the end.

The West African force has almost cut off the route connecting Gbarnga with Monrovia. It has also blocked access for supplies coming to the rebels from Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. But Taylor's group is better equipped than the intervention force to retreat into the bush and continue to fight.

Meanwhile, Liberia remains entirely without leadership.

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