U.S. President George W. Bush says he wants to get enough information before he makes a decision on whether to send troops to Liberia: "I'm in the process of gathering the information necessary to make a rational decision as to how to enforce the ceasefire -- keep the ceasefire in place," he told allAfrica.com Thursday morning.
The administration has been pressed by regional African leaders and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to send up to 2,000 troops to Liberia. Representatives of the West African regional organization, Ecowas, met with "our military thinkers Wednesday to discuss military options," said Bush, but a report of that meeting has not yet reached the White House. "Once the strategy is in place I will let people know," Bush promised.
No details on the number or type of troops that could be deployed as part of an intervention force have been released but the Associated Press Thursday quoted defence officials as saying that U.S. military command in Europe has been ordered to begin planning for possible American intervention in Liberia. A 'Warning Order' was sent Wednesday night to Europe Commander Gen. James Jones asking him to give the Pentagon his estimate of how the situation in Liberia might be handled.
But if the military strategy remains unclear, President Bush was categorical on one point. Referring to the Liberian president, Charles Taylor, he said: "Taylor must go. A condition for any progress in Liberia is his removal."
On other issues related to his Africa trip next week, Bush said he would continue to press Uganda President Yoweri Museveni on the role of Uganda-backed armed militias in the eastern Congo and would continue to try and talk Museveni out of attempting a third term in office. "We would hope that he would adhere to the concept inherent in any democracy -- the peaceful transfer of power."
Commenting on Zimbabwe, the president repeated his criticism of the government of Robert Mugabe, blaming its lack of democracy for the current food emergency there. "We believe a democracy in Zimbabwe will improve the lives of all the people in that important center."
President Bush said he would be visiting Goree Island, one of the key ports of the European slave trade, where he would make a speech on "race as it relates to Africa and America."
The president made his comments during a briefing of allAfrica.com and three journalists from African media organizations on the issues he expects to address during his Africa tour. "It is an extensive trip, an important trip," said Bush.