The 10-strong fact-finding mission, led by Nigerian Brigadier General Festus Okonkwo, is expected to stay until the weekend, when it will report back to the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

It is hoped that a thousands  of peacekeeping troops will follow.

Draft resolution brings glimmer of hope

The United States on Wednesday tabled a resolution in the UN Security Council that would authorise deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force in Liberia.

The draft resolution, creating a force whose first job would be to enforce the June 17 ceasefire between rebels and forces loyal to President Charles Taylor, was "generally well received," said a diplomatic source present when the draft was introduced.

At the same time, the resolution would have the council declare itself ready to send a followup UN stabilization force to Liberia to take over when the multinational force's mandate runs out.

The council also would, according to the draft, ask UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to prepare, within two weeks, a proposal for the mandate, size and structure of such a force, and to set a date for its deployment "no later than October 1."


"ECOWAS will take the lead, with ourselves being supportive."

-US ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte

The draft, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, made no mention of the United States, either as leader or participant, in a multinational force, which, according to a diplomat privy to closed-door discussions, raised questions among some Security Council delegations.

US role undefined

US ambassador to the UN John Negroponte said, "We are going to move as soon as possible" to a vote on the resolution.

"We are talking about providing support for ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) and for the UN to deal with the desperate humanitarian situation," he told reporters.

"ECOWAS will take the lead, with ourselves being supportive," he said, adding he hoped the force could move "as early as possible in August, first two Nigerian battalions and an additional battalion with forces from neighboring countries and troops from selected nations later."

Diplomats present when the resolution was given a first reading said some delegations balked over a clause that would exempt members of either the UN or the multinational force from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

They questioned whether the clause was needed since the United States had just renewed a resolution exculpating its citizens from prosecution by international tribunals dealing with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Deep concern

ECOWAS has agreed to deploy peacekeepers in Liberia - beginning with a Nigerian contingent of about 1,500 troops.

Boucher said Washington believed the resolution met concerns about Liberia raised on Tuesday by UN chief Kofi Annan in a letter to the council.

In that letter, Annan, citing worsening violence in Liberia, called on the Security Council to quickly approve a peacekeeping mission with a "robust mandate ... in order to ensure that it has a credible deterrence capability."

Annan said he was "deeply concerned at the dramatic deterioration of the situation on the ground," and said it was "absolutely essential to accelerate the deployment of the ECOWAS 'vanguard force' to Monrovia and to pave the way for the early deployment" of a multinational force," he said.