The head of the Regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Mohammad Ibn Chambas said on Wednesday the date for deployment would be set next week.

“In view of the gravity of the situation in Liberia, we have decided to deploy two Nigerian battalions urgently to this country,” he said.

The decision came following a two-day symposium on regional security that was dominated by the civil war raging in Liberia.

The rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) are fighting to win control over the capital Monrovia and topple embattled President Charles Taylor. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the latest battles.

ECOWAS had decided earlier this month to send peacekeepers to Monrovia, where a unilateral rebel ceasefire reportedly called on Sunday failed to materialize.

Representatives of the international community participated in the symposium which was sponsored by the US State Department.

Anger is mounting over US President George W Bush's refusal to heed international calls led by United Nations chief Kofi Annan and France to lead a multinational peacekeeping force in the west African country.

“Historic” obligation

A fighter loyal to Taylor patrols
the streets of Monrovia

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a published interview on Wednesday that history obliges Washington to help Liberia, founded by freed American slaves.

“We looked away once in Rwanda, with tragic consequences,” Powell told a US-based newspaper.

Powell pointed out that French and British forces are already engaged in other troubled African nations. The US State Secretary said although American troops were engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has “still unused capabilities”.

Human Rights Watch echoed Powell, saying Washington’s historical links to Liberia should ensure any international deployment gets underway as quickly as possible.

Officials of the New York-based watchdog called for the immediate deployment of an international force with Washington providing logistical support and grounds troops.