Boutros-Ghali keeps Liberia off UN agenda: Secretary-General calls for regional solution to war

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WITH ONLY a passing reference to Nigerian bombing raids on civilian targets in Liberia, the United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, has told the Security Council that Liberia is a regional problem, best resolved by the neighbouring states.

Despite evidence that the Nigerian contingent in the West African peace-keeping force has been shelling and bombing civilian targets , including hospitals, Mr Boutros-Ghali only refers to these attacks obliquely as a complaint of Charles Taylor, leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).

'Mr Taylor complained that persistent bombing attacks by Ecomog (the peace-keeping force) of civilian targets, as recently as 27 February 1992 (sic), resulted in extensive casualties,' the Secretary-General says without further comment. His report is compiled from a document given him by his special representative, Trevor Gordon-Somers, who saw civilian casualties in the aftermath of a Nigerian bombing raid during his visit to Liberia earlier this year.

The Ecomog force is backed by the UN and the United States, which is also funding it. There have also been reports that the Americans are helping the Nigerians to find targets for their bombers. Yesterday the Independent confirmed reports that hospitals and homes had been targeted by Ecomog and bombed by Nigerian air-force planes using cluster bombs and by the Nigerian navy shelling civilian areas from the sea. A Guinean Foreign Ministry official said yesterday that 50,000 refugees had fled Liberia to Guinea in the past week.

But Liberia, where an estimated 150,000 people have died in four years of civil war, is unlikely to get on to the UN agenda, though the Secretary-General admits in his report to the Security Council that 'there is a general consensus . . . that the United Nations should assume a larger role in the search for peace in Liberia'.

Instead, he says: 'I feel it would be more appropriate if Ecowas (the West African regional organisation) were to consider the situation in Liberia, preferably at summit level.'

But West Africa is deeply divided over Liberia, with most of the Francophone nations, led by Ivory Coast, favouring Mr Taylor's NPFL, and the Anglophone states and Guinea backing the interim government of Amos Sawyer. Senegal, the only Francophone state to commit troops to Ecomog, withdrew its contingent last year, ostensibly because of trouble at home.

Mr Boutros-Ghali says that, at present, Mr Taylor's group does not trust the Ecomog peace-keeping force but that a reconstituted force, involving more regional members but with the same command structure, 'would provide the guarantees which Mr Taylor seeks'.

This suggestion is vigorously rejected by Mr Taylor and, anyway, none of the local Francophone countries seems willing to provide troops for the peace-keeping force.