Bush Says U.S. Will Support Actions in Liberia

WASHINGTON - President Bush said during a quick media opportunity in Senegal that the United States will participate with the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations in any humanitarian mission to Liberia. "We're now in the process to determine the extent of our participation," Bush said.

The president told reporters that Liberian President Charles Taylor, "must go." Over the weekend, Taylor accepted a Nigerian offer of asylum, but did not put any timetable on leaving Liberia.

Taylor said he would not go until a U.S.-led peacekeeping force was in place.

Bush said the United States is working with friends in the region to determine "what is necessary to maintain the cease-fire and to allow for a peaceful transfer of power."

On Monday, a 32-member military team landed in Monrovia, Liberia, and is assessing the situation in the war-torn West African country, U.S. European Command officials said, today.

The humanitarian assistance survey team is gathering information about the situation in Liberia. The team has a variety of specialists to help make any assessment. These specialties include: medical, contracting, civil engineering, logistics, water purification and so on. The team is working out of the American Embassy in Monrovia.

"It's hard to say how long the assessment will take," said EUCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rick Haupt. "We know that time is of the essence."

Navy Capt. Roger Coldiron, the commander of the assessment team, will make his recommendations to EUCOM Commander Marine Gen. James Jones. Jones will then relay recommendations up through Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to President Bush, EUCOM officials said.

Bush said West African leaders are concerned about the civil war in Liberia spilling over into other areas of the region.

Freed American slaves founded Liberia in 1822. Though never a U.S. colony, American-Liberian ties remained close. Many U.S. corporations established businesses in the country - most notably Firestone, which at one time maintained the largest rubber plantation in the world there.

Liberia has been through a series of civil wars since 1989. Taylor - once a member of the government - was accused of embezzling from the government. In 1989 he returned to Liberia to lead a revolt against the government. He took power in 1997 and was elected president the same year. Non- governmental organizations estimate "hundreds of thousands" have died in the wars and resulting lawlessness since then.

Taylor is a descendent of American slaves, and studied in the United States. He has been indicted for war crimes for his actions supporting a rebel group in neighboring Sierra Leone that committed atrocities.

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