John Paul II Calls for Laying Down of Arms in Liberia

And the "Concerted Action of the International Community"

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, JULY 27, 2003 (Zenit.org).- On Sunday, John Paul II called all people involved in the violence in Liberia, and throughout the African continent, to lay down their arms. He also appealed for the "concerted action of the international community."



As the Holy Father spoke, the inhabitants of Monrovia, capital of Liberia, who await the arrival of a peace-keeping force, were caught in the crossfire between the troops of President Charles Taylor's government and the LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) rebels, who want to overthrow him.

"In face of the trials of that dear nation, we cannot but implore all those who have weapons in their hands to lay them down and make room for dialogue and the concerted action of the international community," the Pope requested.

The Holy Father made his appeal after praying the "Angelus" at midday with pilgrims from several countries, gathered in the courtyard of the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, some 18 miles from Rome, where he is spending his summer holidays.

On Saturday a mortar hit a Protestant church that sheltered thousands of people. Three died and 55 were wounded, 14 severely, the church's pastor Michael Chea confirmed.

Since the rebel advance began in June, the Greater Refuge church -- situated on a hill that overlooks the port, which is controlled by the rebels -- had received between 5,000 and 6,000 people, many from the outskirts of the capital, Chea said.

On Friday, President Bush ordered war ships to be deployed off the coast of Liberia, to support a new intervention of an African peace force.

On Saturday, Liberian President Charles Taylor called on international peace-keepers to hasten their arrival in that African country, and stressed that he will resign when the peace-keeping force arrives.

The United States oversaw the founding of Liberia by freed American slaves in the 19th century, and is a leading foreign influence in the country.

Hundreds of civilians have died in a week-long rebel assault on Monrovia, the latest round in the insurgents' two-month battle to take the city. Taylor faces war crimes charges from a U.N.-backed court in neighboring Sierra Leone, and is blamed for 14 years of bitter fighting in his own country. On Saturday, Taylor said that 1,000 people have been killed.