THE turmoil in Liberia in West Africa could be brought quickly to an end by a well–equipped, specialist force of some 5'000 soldiers with the necessary support services. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has appealed to the United States to lead such a force to bring the killing and suffering to an end and to nip in the bud the possibility that the fighting could spread to neighbouring countries. Whether or not Washington will agree to help is an open question. In normal circumstances it would not represent a major commitment but with escalating troubles in Iraq Mr Bush will not be keen to get involved in another trouble spot. On the other hand the United States has special links with Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves. The request from the UN comes at an awkward time – Mr Bush leaves for a visit to southern Africa at the end of this week. The situation in Liberia shows once again how necessary it is for the UN Security Council and Secretary General to have at their disposal the core of a military force capable of intervening rapidly in localised conflicts before they escalate into wider crises. As matters stand the Secretary General has to beg for assistance from countries he thinks might be willing to help – a time–consuming process whose result is often too little, too late. The proposed force would not be a “UN army” – it could be made up of specially trained units and resources in national armies earmarked for service with the UN on request.

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