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Warning of looming catastrophe Annan urges Security Council to authorize new force

In a strongly worded letter to the President of the 15-member body, Mr. Annan says to prevent a major tragedy the intervention should be led by a Member State and authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which permits the use of force. “The consequences of allowing the situation to spiral out of control are too terrible to contemplate,” he says, calling attention to the danger posed not only to Liberia, but also other West African States, particularly neighbouring Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire. The Secretary-General also calls on the Liberian parties to immediately and unconditionally respect the ceasefire they signed in Accra on 17 June, allow for the immediate resumption of international humanitarian assistance, and resume comprehensive peace talks. All States were urged to “desist from any action that might be construed as supporting or otherwise encouraging the continuation of the armed conflict.” Earlier this month, following Mr. Annan’s recommendation, the Council endorsed a UN role in support of the implementation of the ceasefire. Today he emphasized that “the time has now come for the Security Council to take action to give practical effect to that commitment, in the light of the most recent grave deterioration in the situation.” Mr. Annan also voices deep concern over recent flagrant violations of the ceasefire. “There are reports that several hundred innocent civilians have been killed in fighting in and around Monrovia, and of wanton destruction of property and widespread looting,” he writes, noting that approximately one-third of the country’s population – some 1 million people – are seeking refuge in the already overcrowded capital, Monrovia. At the same time, virtually all international relief operations have ceased in most parts of the country. “The combination of cholera outbreaks and food shortages in an environment of ongoing violence, disruption of life-saving services, and cessation of humanitarian aid threatens to produce a major humanitarian catastrophe,” Mr. Annan warns, adding that the scale of the crisis could exceed that of the recent one in Bunia in the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo. The Secretary-General is appealing to leaders in the region to press for the strict observance of the ceasefire and to intensify the quest for a comprehensive political arrangement “which would be fully consistent with the relevant provisions of the ceasefire agreement signed in Accra on 17 June 2003, including in relation to President [Charles] Taylor,” according to the letter. [That accord calls for the formation of a transitional government, which will not include President Taylor, in accordance with his 4 June declaration at the opening of the Accra talks. In his address, the Liberian leader offered to “remove himself from the process that would continue to perpetuate this crisis?(as) it has become apparent that some people believe that President Taylor is the problem.”] While acknowledging the “commendable efforts” of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mr. Annan warns that “broader international action is urgently needed to reverse Liberia’s drift towards total disintegration.” “Our collective interest and our common humanity demand urgent and decisive action from the Security Council,” the Secretary-General states. “We cannot be oblivious to the warning signs of an imminent possible catastrophe.”

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