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Send troops to Liberia, BWA exec urges Bush as civil war escalates

WASHINGTON (BP)–Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, sent a letter to President Bush July 22 on behalf of Baptists in Liberia urgently requesting the president to send military forces to protect the lives of innocent people.

“There has been a long historical relationship between the USA and Liberia. Hundreds are dying, thousands are wounded, and thousands of others are left homeless as refugees without food, without support, without encouragement,” Lotz wrote.

“It is incumbent upon the USA to support the peace-loving people of Liberia who for so long have been victims of treacherous and tyrannical governments,” Lotz continued. “Please, Mr. President, now is the time to support our friends in Liberia. Any delay would bring further bloodshed, destruction and misery to the Liberian people.”

Liberia considers its connection to the United States strong because the West African nation was founded by freed slaves from America in 1847. Its capital, Monrovia, is named after President James Monroe and the country’s government structure shares many similarities with the United States.

Two rebel forces in Liberia have grown more aggressive in the past six weeks as they strive to topple President Charles Taylor’s government. Taylor, a former rebel leader accused of crimes against humanity in connection with strife in Sierra Leone, has agreed to step down if an international peacekeeping force will arrive to assume power.

While the international community debates sending forces, fierce fighting continues and the death toll rises. The government stated that at least 600 people died in four days of warfare as rebel forces pounded downtown Monrovia with mortar shells and other weapons. Hundreds of angry Liberians laid the mutilated bodies of their loved ones in front of the American embassy as a desperate plea for America to save them by restoring peace, The New York Times reported July 22.

“Why can’t the Americans come in to rescue us?” The Times reported one man as yelling at the embassy amid wails from others begging for U.S. help.

Liberian rebels declared a ceasefire July 22 from their assaults on the capital, although some fighting continued.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and other West African nations also have called upon the United States to send peacekeepers.

But with American troops already spread thin by a war against terror in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places and with the last African intervention in Somalia having ended in disaster, wariness abounds toward deploying troops to Liberia on a significant scale.

The Pentagon, however, has moved an amphibious landing force of 4,500 sailors and Marines closer to Liberia as a precaution, The Times reported. Twenty-one Marines, part of the Fleet Anti-Terrorist Security Team, arrived on three helicopters in Monrovia July 22 to protect the embassy and evacuate 25 Americans and other foreigners who requested aid in fleeing the war-torn capital, according to The Times.

Like many international officials watching the Liberian crisis unfold, BWA’s Lotz stressed the importance of timely U.S. aid in order to prevent further escalation.

“Failure to act immediately will incur further wrath of the African people, and particularly those of Liberia, against the inability of the U.S. government to work for peace and stability in Africa,” Lotz concluded in his letter to the president. “Our Liberian brothers and sisters plead for help now. Please do not delay!”

Liberia and China were the first two mission fields opened by Southern Baptists, both in 1846, a year after the convention organized its foreign mission board.

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  • Erin Curry