ALONG a 2-1/2 mile stretch of West Africa's finest beaches,
American soldiers, United Nations officials, and merchants cool off
as waves gently roll up. Locals sell drinks and souvenirs. Overhead
the occasional commercial helicopter flies in and deposits the last
few evacuees from the chaos next door in Liberia.
Three American soldiers stroll down the beach in Bermuda shorts.
"We're not even sure what country we're in," says one. "And right
now we don't really care." They do know, however, that somewhere
behind the lush mountain backdrop, rebels are fighting another
vicious civil war in Africa, and that shore leave here means just
that - stay by the shore.
A group of disheveled-looking United Nations staff members chat
at their beachside hotel, some still in the clothes they wore when
they fled Liberia. None could guess where they will be in a week.
One said that what disheartened her most was the failure of the
West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, to prevent the chaos.
It "puts a question mark over the future of regional
peacekeeping," she says. Regional solutions to conflict were what
the UN has promoted because its shrinking budget has made it unable
to act alone.
Still, most of the UN personnel say they are hopeful that they
will get back to Liberia. "We were really doing something for
people," says an Irishman. One is more cynical. "It will take 10
years to get the country back to where it was two weeks ago," he
Since the civil war began in 1991, greater Monrovia (the capital
of Liberia) has been a "safe area" for about a million displaced
people from the interior and a staging area for aid operations
Fighting is reported to be continuing for the second week
running with shelling and sniper fire throughout the city. Some
60,000 civilians are at risk of starvation. With most aid groups
gone, "the future only holds renewed violence," according to one UN
But what concerns people here still more is the prospect of
humanitarian disaster spreading through the region, with millions
of displaced and hungry Liberians crossing into neighboring
countries, including Sierra Leone.
On Wednesday, two new boat loads of evacuees from Liberia
arrived in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Most of those on
board were Lebanese business executives and UN and ECOMOG soldiers.
But there was panic that Liberian "troublemakers" were among them.
The Sierra Leone government has not yet allowed one of the ships to
Sierra Leone has reason to be concerned. The five-year-old civil
war here began when the civil war in Liberia spilled across the