Liberia Seeks Help for Refugees and Election Planning
WASHINGTON — THOUGH a final peace is not yet at hand, battered Liberia is slowly returning to normal life, according to the country's interim president, Amos Sawyer.Nearly two years after Liberia erupted in civil war, one-third of its population remains refugees, and rebel leader Charles Taylor still controls most of the countryside outside Monrovia, the capital. But Mr. Taylor has agreed to a peace plan drawn up by West African leaders, and a nationwide vote for a new government could take place within six to nine months, Dr. Sawyer said at a meeting in Washington with Africa experts. "We are making progress in our efforts to move to elections," he said. There is great weariness with war throughout Liberia, even among Taylor's forces, said Sawyer, a university professor who returned from exile in the United States to head the interim government last November. Planning has begun for the repatriation and resettlement of roughly 800,000 refugees, an effort estimated to cost $65 million. So far, the US has contributed about $3.8 million for Liberian peacekeeping efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). A joint ECOWAS military force now controls Monrovia. In addition, the US has contributed almost $100 million worth of relief aid, mostly food. Liberians hope additional funds will be forthcoming, both from the US itself and the European Community. In conversations with the State Department, Sawyer said, "we are urging perhaps a little bit more." He added that the country also needs international help in setting up election machinery. The situation in Liberia took a big turn for the better last month when Sawyer, rebel leader Taylor, and regional heads of state met in the Ivory Coast and hammered out procedures for implementing a cease-fire agreement first drawn up 11 months ago. Taylor had been dragging his heels on implementation, claiming that Nigeria, a major contributor to the ECOWAS forces, was biased against him. He had insisted on its replacement by United Nations peacekeeping forces. But in a September trip through the region, Vice-President Dan Quayle passed the word that the US strongly favored a West African regional solution to the crisis - effectively killing any chance of UN involvement. At the same time, to help mollify Taylor, US officials arranged for Senegal to send troops for the ECOWAS peacekeeping force, diluting the Nigerian presence. Taylor's National Patriotic Liberation Front troops still control almost 90 percent of Liberia. But the Ivory Coast agreement calls for the disarming of NPLF troops. Arms shipments for Taylor, which used to flow freely through the Ivory Coast, have ended, Sawyer said. "The capacity of Mr. Taylor to wage war depended on access to his rear guard bases," said the Liberian president. In Monrovia, there is a slow return to normalcy. Telephones are working, after a fashion, and the water supply is back and running at 70 percent of capacity. Electrical generation equipment was seriously damaged during the heaviest fighting, but some power is back on. Sawyer denies any interest in following his interim stint as president by running for the post in new elections. He wants, he said, nothing more than to go back to academia.