MONROVIA, Liberia -- As Liberian women chanted "No more war" outside the U.S. Embassy, a top senatorial skeptic of U.S. military involvement here appeared to soften his position -- saying a stable Liberia is in the security interests of the United States.
Sen. John Warner, chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, had repeatedly expressed doubts about whether Washington should deploy troops to Liberia.
But during his visit to the country Thursday, the Virginia Republican suggested terrorists could use failed African states such as Liberia as bases. Stabilizing such countries is "in the security interest of our country," he said.
"I come back again to the worldwide fight on terrorism, the fact that if areas in Africa such as this are subject to prolonged turmoil, and if they cannot control their territorial sovereignty, they can become potential havens for those who wish to reach out from this land to other nations and direct their harmful intentions," Warner said.
Some security officials and others have contended that al-Qaida and other violent Islamic groups have trafficked West African diamonds in Liberia as a way to launder funds. Authorities say no such link has been conclusively shown.
Concern for countryside
As Warner arrived, Liberian women marched by the hundreds on the U.S. Embassy and West African peace force headquarters Thursday, appealing for quicker deployment into the nation's unsettled and starving countryside.
Warner's trip comes as concerns rise over the month-old West African peace mission's slowness in spreading into the interior, and as West African and U.N. diplomats urge the U.S. military to stay involved in peacekeeping efforts.
While calm holds in the capital, thousands continue to stream from the north, seeking refuge from what they say are continued clashes.
In driving rain, women surrounded an armored personnel carrier outside the West African force's compound before continuing on to the U.S. Embassy.
The demonstrators waved signs with slogans urging, "Total peace, not half peace," "War everyday" and "Our sisters in Liberia are dying."
"We're asking them to speedily deploy to the countryside to stop the killing of our people in the bushes," said Leymah Gbowoe, 31, a march organizer.
West African peacekeepers say they can spread out nationwide only when their now 1,500-strong, Nigerian-led force builds closer to its intended 3,250-man strength.