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Bush Urges Liberia's Leader to Resign

Violence has escalated there after a cease-fire unraveled. U.S. pledges $100 million to Africa's war on terror as presidential visit nears.

June 27, 2003|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As a prelude to his trip to Africa early next month, President Bush on Thursday called for the resignation of Liberia's warlord president, Charles Taylor, and pledged $100 million for counter-terrorism efforts on the continent.

In a speech to a U.S.-Africa trade conference, Bush said the peace and prosperity of the world are increasingly dependent on promoting peace and prosperity in Africa.

"America is committed to the success of Africa because we recognize a moral duty to bring hope where there is despair and relief where there's suffering," the president said. "America is committed to the success of Africa because we understand failed states spread instability and terror that threaten us all."

In war-torn Liberia, violence has been escalating after the breakdown of a cease-fire signed last week. Rebel groups are trying to force the resignation of Taylor, who came to power in a tainted election in 1997 and has recently been indicted by a U.N.-backed war crimes court for his role in neighboring Sierra Leone's civil war.

Liberian Health Minister Peter Coleman said Thursday that 200 to 300 people had been killed and 1,000 wounded as rebels fought their way into Monrovia, the capital, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, this week urged Washington to consider sending troops to stabilize Liberia. He termed the U.S. the "natural candidate" to take on such a mission.

Liberia has long-standing ties to the United States, having been founded by freed American slaves in 1822.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday that "all options are under consideration."

Bush did not address the question of U.S. intervention in his remarks but made it clear that the United States is not neutral on the Liberian conflict.

"President Taylor needs to step down so that his country can be spared further bloodshed," Bush said. "We are determined to help the people of Liberia find the path to peace."

Liberia's response to Bush's message was restrained, urging the United States to "remain proactive in the peace process" and making no mention of the call for Taylor to leave, Associated Press reported.

Bush also called on African states to work together to end the continent's cycle of regional and ethnic violence.

"These wars are often encouraged by regimes that give weapons and refuge to rebel groups fighting in neighboring countries," Bush said.

"The cycle of attack and escalation is reckless, it is destructive, and it must be ended."

Because Africa, with its poverty and lawlessness, has become a breeding ground for terrorists, the president pledged $100 million over 15 months to help five East African countries -- Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda and Tanzania -- improve security at their airports and seaports.

"Many African governments have the will to fight the war on terror, and we are thankful for that will. We will give them the tools and the resources to win the war on terror," the president said.

Bush has made Africa a foreign policy priority. He has won congressional approval for $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS on the continent, where the disease has killed millions and depressed economies.

The president has also pledged $200 million over five years to improve education. The money will be used to train teachers, provide schoolbooks and sponsor scholarships for 250,000 African girls. And he has set aside money for a program, known as the Millennium Challenge Accounts, designed to reward developing countries that uphold human rights and fight corruption.

The aid will help, Bush said, but it will not be enough unless African economies develop so they can better compete in world markets.

"The powerful combination of trade and open markets is history's proven method to defeat poverty on a large scale," he said.

Gayle Smith, a National Security Council official under President Clinton who is now affiliated with the Brookings Institution think tank, said Bush's Africa policies are a natural outgrowth of policies developed by the administration she served, but with one significant difference.

Bush "can bring money to the table," Smith said. "We're finally at a point where the AIDS crisis and the Sept. 11 attacks are getting recognition [for Africa] in Congress so they are willing to put some money on the table."

The president's five-day Africa trip starts July 7 and will take him to Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria.

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