African Churches Take Stand on Liberian Conflict

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - As relative calm returned to Liberia after two weeks of intense fighting, African churches have thrown their weight behind calls for a transitional government of national unity and other mechanisms to ensure lasting stability there.

Fighting subsided Thursday following the arrival of a 10-man fact-finding mission from the regional Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) grouping to work out the logistics of a peacekeeping operation, which West African leaders said could begin as soon as next week.

The U.S. has introduced a resolution at the U.N. authorizing deployment of a peacekeeping force to the troubled West African country, although not dealing with a future U.S. role there.

The Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches, which represents 169 churches across the continent, said both the U.N. and the Africa Union should provide both peacekeeping and peace enforcement forces.

"Experience has shown that without them, a cease-fire agreement will not hold," said AACC spokesman Mitch Odero.

African churches have been asked by the World Council of Churches to urge their governments to support the immediate deployment of peacekeepers to Liberia and to ensure that the forces are "adequately financed."

The churches said ECOWAS must oversee the signing of a clear and binding peace agreement and set up monitoring and supervision mechanisms to ensure that the signed agreements are met.

Liberia's neighbors should also be encouraged to establish healthy cross-border relations, the AACC said.

"All the neighboring countries should refrain from harboring combatants from their respective nations."

Liberia has accused neighboring Guinea of sheltering one of the leaders of rebel forces now fighting to overthrow President Charles Taylor's government.

Officials in Guinea have admitted this but say the move is justified, considering Taylor has long been sponsoring bloody conflicts in the region.

A U.N. war crimes court has indicted Taylor for his alleged role in the costly civil war in another neighboring state, Sierra Leone.

Two rebel groups, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, are fighting to oust Taylor, whom they accuse of plundering national resources.

Like many other observers, the African church body believes peace in Liberia will translate into calm in the wider sub-region.

The AACC said Guinea, Sierra Leone and another neighbor, Cote d'Ivoire, had all been affected politically, socially and economically by the protracted conflicts in Liberia.

Those countries would therefore also need help in their own "reconstruction endeavors."

Church relief agencies are calling for more help from African churches as the humanitarian situation in Liberia worsens.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed, and tens of thousands are homeless.

The World Council of Churches says the situation is desperate.

"There is no supply of drinking water and no food. The churches' and mosques' compounds are full of people who fled the war zones and are in need of assistance."

Ray Studer of Catholic Relief Services said the humanitarian needs of Liberians will largely remain unmet until agencies like his " are able to operate with a reasonable degree of security."

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