Liberia Says Goodbye to Peace Force
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Singing peace songs and waving handkerchiefs, 12,000 jubilant residents paraded through Liberia’s capital Saturday with foreign peacekeepers who are leaving the country next week.
A battalion of tanks used by the Nigerian-led peacekeeping force, called Ecomog, lined the parade route, as soldiers from each unit marched by the cheering throngs in this northwestern African nation.
Many marchers carried banners that read ``Ecomog, we love you″ and ``Farewell, our West African friends.″
The peacekeepers, including soldiers from a number of West African states, are scheduled to be transferred to neighboring Sierra Leone on Feb. 2, where another 5,000 Ecomog troops have been enforcing a blockade against junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma.
Liberians were not always so welcoming of the Ecomog troops, deployed in 1990. Just two years ago, the soldiers, most of whom are Nigerian, were seen beating civilians and looting in Monrovia.
But new leadership later brought the soldiers under control, and now they are credited with creating the environment for peaceful presidential elections last July.
The winner of the election, President Charles Taylor, a former warlord, started a seven-year Liberian war on Christmas Eve in 1989 to overthrow the dictatorship of President Samuel Doe. The war continued among several factions even after Doe’s ouster and death in 1990, killing more than 150,000 people and leaving half the population homeless.
Under agreements that paved the way for the July presidential elections, Ecomog was to remain in Liberia until February after organizing and training a new Liberian army.