Settlement in Liberia

April 14, 1994

An end to Liberia's four-year civil war may be in sight. Peace-keeping armies of Liberia's West African neighbors have begun disarming some 60,000 rebel rabble who have been raping and pillaging the countryside but are now gathering in designated areas under the eyes of United Nations observers. A five-member government representing the main political-guerrilla factions began operations, the sticking points mediated by former President Canaan Banana of Zimbabwe.

These measures -- actually negotiated last July and just now being implemented -- postpone the question of who will wield power. But that is to be decided by an election in September to create a legitimate government. Then a fundamental reconstruction can begin.

It will be needed. Half of the 2.6 million Liberians have been displaced by civil war, and some 60,000 killed. Starvation is rampant. Economic life is moribund. That is the only fruit of the rebellion launched in 1989 by Charles Taylor, with Libyan help, against the dictator Samuel Doe, who was slain.

There is American anguish in all this. The country as a modern state was founded at the instigation of American abolitionists by American freed slaves. Its former institutions were modeled on ours. It has been almost a U.S. protectorate in the past.

But this was one swamp of anguish that the U.S. did not try to drain. American troops were not sent. American prestige was not invested. American money is not spent. The nine-member Economic Community of West African States, led by Nigeria, is trying to restore civil society. The U.N. is proving useful. It's an African problem that Africans have, indeed, accepted and are trying to resolve.

If the agony gripping Liberians is over -- and it is too early to be sure of that -- Americans will be grateful to those who have been willing to deal with a dreadful problem that is best described as African with American dimensions.

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