As fighting intensified in Liberia and the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia was surrounded by rebel forces, the Bush administration yesterday said it would begin discussions on a possible U.N. Security Council meeting aimed at a cease-fire in the bloody seven-month-old civil war.
Saying the situation in Liberia "continues to deteriorate," Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen announced that the United States is "actively consulting" with other Security Council members about a special meeting on Liberia.
Although the United States has ruled out any direct intervention, he said "we see no immediate prospect for the fighting to end without some sort of an international intervention."
Cohen's statement followed renewed calls from members of Congress for a diplomatic initiative to halt the bloodshed such as Monday's massacre, reportedly by government troops, of hundreds of refugees at a crowded Lutheran church compound.
Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, said that members of Congress have been urging the administration "to get this on the Security Council agenda" and "develop an international response." Earlier this week, a State Department official said such a U.N. appeal for a cease-fire would probably go unheeded by the two rebel groups, which have been closing in on the besieged President Samuel Doe.
Wolpe said he and ranking minority member Dan Burton (R-Ind.) have asked for a meeting with White House national security adviser Brent Scowcroft to press their case for a more active U.S. response.
Wolpe said he has also urged the administration "to be much more forthright and public in making clear that Doe's continued presence inside Liberia is only adding to the volatility of an already explosive situation."
The United States has a Navy flotilla offshore and has offered to remove Doe from his mansion if it would result in less violence. Doe, in an interview yesterday with the British Broadcasting Corp., vowed anew to fight "until the last soldiers in the Liberian Army die."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday there are no plans to evacuate the 400 Americans in Monrovia.
Cohen said one group of rebels under the leadership of Prince Johnson "have effectively taken control of the area known as Mamba Point," site of diplomatic compounds, including the U.S. Embassy. "The tide of the battle seems to have gone past Mamba Point," and toward Doe's mansion, he said, so the embassy appears to be "behind enemy lines at this time."
But Cohen said "we do not feel any increased danger from this development since all of our facilities behind rebel lines have been correctly treated so far" and "we do not feel sufficiently threatened" to call in military help from the offshore naval forces.
Another State Department official said yesterday the administration decided to turn to the United Nations because of "deepening concern about the lack of prospects" for a cease-fire. U.S. officials and outside experts say that even if Doe were to flee, the two rebel groups could well turn on each other in a protracted conflict.
Cohen said the church killings were "only one example of continuing ethnic killings, and the country is running out of food . . . starvation is taking place. Many people are in need of medicine and it's very important that the fighting stop so that the international community can engage in a massive humanitarian rescue effort." Cohen said 50,000 tons of food contributed by the United States is moving through rebel-held areas.