U.S. offers U.N. resolution on Liberia
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As fighting continues to escalate in Liberia, the United States presented a draft resolution to the United Nations' Security Council Wednesday to authorize the deployment of a multi-national stabilization force.
"The draft resolution would mandate a multi-national force to go into Liberia in support of the cease-fire there and humanitarian situation, and would also pave the way for the prompt creation of a United Nations peacekeeping force thereafter," said John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Negroponte said two battalions from Nigeria would be the first to enter Liberia, possibly in August, and a "blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeeping force" could possibly deploy by the beginning of October.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the fighting to oust President Charles Taylor with the most recent battles being fought in and around the capital, Monrovia, and second city, Buchanan.
The latest escalation began July 17 -- more than a month after a cease-fire deal in which Taylor agreed to step down. Taylor still says he will quit for exile in Nigeria but only after peacekeepers are in the country.
A 12-member ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) reconnaissance team arrived in Monrovia Wednesday afternoon to evaluate the situation and determine what will be needed to put peacekeepers on the ground.
Nigeria has expressed concern about the willingness of the international community to provide enough support, especially logistical support.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kantsteiner will attend an ECOWAS heads-of-state meeting "to talk about next steps" Thursday in Accra, Ghana, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. President George W. Bush repeated his demand that Taylor step down as part of a United Nations peace plan before additional assistance is offered.
"Charles Taylor must go; cease-fire must be in place; and we will be there to help ECOWAS," the president said in a news conference.
"We're working to get those conditions in place and we will continue working to get them in place until they are in place, at which point we will then take the necessary steps to get ECOWAS in place so that we can deliver aid and help to suffering Liberians."
The Bush administration so far has agreed to provide $10 million in a contract for logistics support and has positioned ships with about 2,000 U.S. marines off the Liberian coast.
Despite a recent letter from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urging the United States to be a leader in the region, Boucher indicated that at the moment the United States does not intend to lead the force.
"There will be a variety of kinds of support from the United States. Whether that involves soldiers deployed on the ground, that's a decision the president will have to make at the appropriate time," said Boucher.
"Clearly, the continuation of the fighting creates concerns and complicates that. So alongside the movement toward deployment has been an effort to try to get the parties to abide by the cease-fire," said Boucher.
The humanitarian situation is critical in Monrovia, after thousands of refugees poured into the capital to escape fighting between rebel troops and government troops loyal to President Taylor.
Magnus Wolfe-Murray, of Medical Emergency Relief International, told CNN that the peacekeepers would be a welcome sight for Monrovians.
"As soon as they get in place, one hopes the fighting around the city will stop and we'll be able to get freer and better access to people we haven't been able to reach for over a week now," he said. "There are hundreds of thousands of people who haven't had any food in over a week."
Taylor was indicted in June by a U.N.-back special court on war crimes charges stemming from his participation in the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.
-- CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.