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Active U.S. Role, Humanitarian Aid Urgent For Liberia, CWS Says

June 6, 2003, NEW YORK CITY - The global humanitarian agency Church World Service is urging the United States to take an active and immediate role in war-battered Liberia, where an already desperate humanitarian situation worsened this week in the wake of announcement of the indictment of Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes.

CWS further emphasized the need for deployment of an African stabilization force in Liberia, which would help create a climate conducive to cease-fire negotiations, convening of an All-Liberia Peace Conference and ultimately the return to normalcy and democratic governance.

Panic erupted in the streets of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, on Wednesday (June 4) when word came of the indictment - just as long-awaited talks opened in Ghana with the goal of ending Liberia’s 13-year civil war.

Taylor addressed the opening session of the peace conference. He indicated willingness to step down from the presidency by the end of the year, but there were conflicting reports concerning under what conditions he would do so. Then he abruptly left and flew back to Monrovia, where he said his forces had foiled a coup attempt while he was away.

"These developments threaten the long-awaited talks, upon which Liberia’s 2.7 million citizens have pinned so many hopes," said the Rev. John L. McCullough, CWS Executive Director. "We also fear that in the chaos in Monrovia, where tens of thousands of Liberians have taken refuge from the fighting that has engulfed their country, humanitarian conditions will deteriorate and delivery of humanitarian aid will be jeopardized, further deepening the misery of people who already have suffered too long."

Church World Service has funded five Liberian church leaders’ participation in the current peace talks, which result in large part from the persistent diplomacy of the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia, comprising the Liberian Council of Churches and the National Muslim Council of Liberia.

Hundreds of thousands of Liberians have been uprooted from their homes by fighting between government and rebel forces, which has driven them into overcrowded camps where they live in deplorable conditions. The fighting has rendered 80 percent of the country inaccessible to urgently needed humanitarian assistance. Church leaders report a proliferation of armed groups, forced recruitment of children aged 12 to 18 years and amputations of men, women and children by the belligerent forces.

The CWS program of emergency assistance to Liberians includes an airlift this week of 1,500 blankets, 3,984 cans of processed beef, 1,000 personal hygiene kits and 4,300 pounds of rice. The goods are scheduled to arrive in Monrovia today (June 6) for distribution by two CWS partners - Concerned Christian Community and the YMCA - to Liberians displaced by the war.

A nearly identical CWS aid shipment (with slightly more beef but minus the rice) in mid-April helped nearly 3,600 pregnant and nursing mothers, children and elderly in six internally displaced persons (IDP) camps near Monrovia, said the CCC’s director, the Rev. Kortu Brown. He confirmed the successful distribution of the goods - including to two camps where attacks in early April had led the World Food Program to suspend food deliveries.

Church World Service still needs $100,000 toward its goal for $150,000 in support for three more projects, including nutrition, health care, education, trauma recovery and leadership training for displaced persons. CWS also supports emergency assistance for Liberian refugees in neighboring Sierra Leone; a 38,000-pound shipment of rice is scheduled for departure by ship next week.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF INDICTMENT DESTABILIZES MONROVIA

The indictment against Liberia’s President Taylor was issued on March 7 but unsealed only on June 4 to coincide with Taylor’s presence in Ghana for the peace talks. The indictment was handed down by a United Nations-backed Special Court in Sierra Leone, which accused him of supporting the rebel forces that murdered, mutilated and raped thousands of innocent men, women and children during the decade-long civil war in that country.

When news of the indictment reached Monrovia, the capital city "went amok," reported the Rev. Brown. "Human and vehicular traffic got off track in all directions" as people ran home from fear of violence.

The streets regained some measure of calm, but on Thursday (June 5), fighting flared in Brewerville, the western suburbs of Monrovia where Concerned Christian Community has programs with internally displaced persons.

"I was personally in the area when fighting flared and thousands of people were running helter-skelter," he said on Thursday. "As I write I have just been informed that another attack has been reported in another area of the community. Please pray for us. The situation is cause for serious concern as people don’t know what will be happening next."

Today (June 6), the Associated Press reported that battles between government and rebel forces on the western outskirts of Monrovia had sent thousands of people fleeing to the center of the capital.

"Taylor’s early departure from the peace conference is regrettable, given the difficulty of convening such a conference and the importance of his participation in helping bring about a durable solution to the Liberian civil war," said Victor Hsu, Senior Advisor to the Church World Service Executive Director. Hsu met Taylor last July in connection with an official CWS delegation visit to West Africa.

Church World Service is striving to enlist U.S. churches and government leaders to take an active interest on behalf of Liberia’s beleaguered people, who feel forgotten by the United States, Liberia’s long-time ally.

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