US efforts a relief for Liberia and the world

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 2003, 12:00am

The cries for help from Liberia's war-ravaged people will soon be answered by multinational commitments. Although belated, the combined effort by the United States, the United Nations and African countries is welcome because, eventually, 2.7 million more people in the world will be living in peace.

As importantly, the UN Security Council's decision on Friday to adopt a US-sponsored resolution to contribute a peacekeeping force showed that despite the debacle over Iraq, the world body can still perform its intended role.

While the US insisted that peacekeepers accused of crimes be tried in their own countries - another snub to the International Criminal Court and a move to which France, Germany and Mexico objected - its efforts to help Africans must be applauded. President George W. Bush has sent soldiers to strengthen a humanitarian effort and help restore essential services and infrastructure. For now, US$10 million has been pledged to help with peacekeeping operations.

No Liberian family has escaped 14 years of conflict. More than 300,000 people have been killed and 1.3 million made refugees. Hunger and disease are widespread. Resource-starved humanitarian groups have struggled to cope.

Concerted efforts to alleviate suffering begin tomorrow when a Nigerian-led peacekeeping force begins deploying to ensure a ceasefire between government and rebel fighters holds. With the agreed departure of President Charles Taylor to exile in Nigeria, an interim government can take shape.

In a continent plagued by several wars and by health and social crises, Liberia is not unusual. Neighbouring Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast have already suffered the same fate and, with the help of the UN and former colonial powers Britain and France, are undergoing a reconciliation process. An estimated 10 times as many people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo's five-year civil conflict as in Liberia's civil war, while Algeria, Sudan and Uganda are among other countries struggling to fight off rebel opposition. HIV/Aids and malaria are ravaging the continent. Infrastructure remains poorly developed and poverty is rampant despite promises from the developed world.

Liberia is proof that international pressure works. The US, initially unwilling to get involved in a conflict which did not affect its national security, became a driving force in the push for peace due to media attention and the urging of Britain, France and exiled Liberians. America had historical links with Liberia and Mr Bush had promised, during last month's five-nation African trip, to help the continent.

The US has taken a role expected of a superpower. Divisions created by Iraq must be forgotten so that global problems can be dealt with in an even-handed and consensual manner.