Liberians are starving. Monrovia no longer works as a city. Telephone and telex links with the outside world have not worked in nine months. The country, shattered by the civil war that deposed the dictator Samuel Doe, needs a respite from anarchy and tribal strife.
But the peace conference in Monrovia that could quick-start a regime capable of receiving aid is hamstrung by the issues that the last round of fighting was about: Whether Charles Taylor should be given power, or denied power.
Mr. Taylor, the former civil servant who launched the rebellion with aid from Libya, is thought to control most of the countryside. He would not come to the peace conference himself, and proposed an interim council of three including himself to prepare elections. The 16-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which sent in a peace-keeping force, wants an interim regime without any of the faction leaders, to guarantee fairness. This is a stop-Taylor maneuver, and what the two sides are at odds about.