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Church groups call for intervention in Liberia

6/13/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By United Methodist News Service

Officials with the World Council of Churches and Church World Service are calling for international help in Liberia, where fighting between government and rebel forces is raging and the nation's top leader has been indicted for war crimes.

In a June 13 letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the top staff executive of the World Council of Churches urged support for peace initiatives in Liberia.

The council is concerned about reports of escalating fighting between government forces and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, wrote the Rev. Konrad Raiser. "Thousands of people, including internally displaced persons and refugees from neighboring countries, have once again been uprooted and are on the move in search of security." Aid efforts have been hampered, food, water and shelter are hard to find, and "looting and plunder have added to the miseries" of the civilian population, he wrote.

Rebel groups are fighting government forces in different parts of the country, already battered by more than a decade of war. Meanwhile, an indictment against President Charles Taylor was unsealed June 4, accusing him of war crimes against thousands of people during the country's previous civil war, when he led a rebel faction. A U.N.-backed Special Court in Sierra Leone handed down the indictment.

Raiser noted that the developments coincided with the June 4 opening of the Liberian Peace Conference in Ghana, under the leadership of the Economic Community of West African States and the U.N. International Contact Group on Liberia. "We hope that the peace process, presently stalled, will be revived with the active participation of all parties concerned, so that a genuine search for a just and durable peace can begin by putting into effect an immediate cease-fire and an end to hostilities," Raiser said.

He asked that the United Nations encourage the parties in the conflict to agree on the presence of peacekeepers. "Given the gravity of this near-anarchy situation that has developed, it is difficult to foresee a cease-fire holding out without the backing of a credible peace-keeping force," he wrote.

A week earlier, Church World Service, a humanitarian relief agency, urged the United States to respond immediately to the crisis in Liberia. It also called for the deployment of an African "stabilization force" in the country. Church World Service is providing aid and attempting to rally U.S. churches and government leaders to help Liberia.

The United Methodist Church is an active supporter of both the World Council of Churches and Church World Service.

The Rev. John McCullough, executive director of Church World Service and a United Methodist, expressed concern for the status of the peace talks, now threatened by recent developments.

"We also fear that in the chaos in Monrovia, where tens of thousands of Liberians have taken refuge from the fighting that has engulfed their country, humanitarian conditions will deteriorate and delivery of humanitarian aid will be jeopardized, further deepening the misery of people who already have suffered too long," he said.

Bishop John Innis, who leads the United Methodist Church in Liberia, has provided food and blankets to displaced people flooding into Monrovia, the nation's capital.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is responding to the crisis. Donations to UMCOR can be designated for Liberia Emergency, Advance #150300-7, and dropped in church offering plates or sent to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

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Information for this report was provided by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Church World Service and the World Council of Churches.

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