LIBERIA - Actualité (1990-2000)
Le 1er juin 1990, alors que les rebelles
du Front national patriotique du Liberia (F.N.P.L.), dirigé par
Charles Taylor, campent aux portes de Monrovia, le président Samuel
Doe, en poste depuis son coup d’État sanglant de 1980, se contente
d’annoncer qu’il ne se représentera pas aux élections de
Le 6 juillet, le président Doe accepte d’envisager son départ, mais en posant des conditions inacceptables pour les Américains. Les rebelles de Charles Taylor affrontent les troupes régulières dans la capitale même. Ils se trouvent confrontés à une scission dans leurs rangs: un rebelle dissident, Prince Johnson, qui aurait le soutien de Washington, s’oppose aux forces de Charles Taylor, qui seraient soutenues par la Libye. Le 28, Charles Taylor annonce que le gouvernement du président Doe a été «dissous et remplacé par le gouvernement de l’Assemblée patriotique nationale de reconstruction». Toutefois, aucun gouvernement ne se met en place et l’anarchie continue. Le 29, alors qu’ils s’étaient réfugiés dans une église, plus de 600 civils appartenant à l’ethnie favorable aux rebelles sont massacrés par les forces du président Doe. Le 31, les forces gouvernementales lancent une violente contre-attaque et reprennent aux rebelles dissidents de Prince Johnson une partie du centre de la capitale.
Le 3 octobre, la Force ouest-africaine d’interposition (Ecomog) parvient à prendre le contrôle de Monrovia, après avoir repoussé les rebelles du F.N.P.L.
Le 28 novembre, un accord de cessez-le-feu
est signé par tous les belligérants, au terme d’un sommet
extraordinaire de la Communauté économique des États
d’Afrique de l’Ouest (C.E.D.E.A.O.), réuni à Bamako, au Mali.
Les 16 et 17 septembre 1991, la C.E.D.E.A.O. tient en Côte d’Ivoire son troisième sommet consacré au Liberia. L’objectif est de convaincre les rebelles du F.N.P.L. de reconnaître l’autorité du gouvernement intérimaire, présidé par Amos Sawyer et protégé par les 7 000 hommes de la Force ouest-africaine d’interposition. Charles Taylor accepte de déposer les armes et de regrouper ses combattants, contre l’engagement du gouvernement d’Amos Sawyer de réorganiser la Force d’interposition de la C.E.D.E.A.O. au sein de laquelle l’influence du Nigeria devrait diminuer.
Le 15 octobre 1992, Monrovia est bombardée pour la première fois depuis l’accord de cessez-le-feu de novembre 1990. Le 20, les chefs d’État des 12 pays de la C.E.D.E.A.O. menacent les rebelles de sanctions s’ils n’appliquent pas l’accord de désarmement et de regroupement des combattants signé en septembre 1991. Le siège de Monrovia par les hommes du F.N.P.L. se poursuit toutefois.
Le 17 juillet 1993, le F.N.P.L. et le Mouvement uni de libération (Ulimo) d’Alhaji Kromah, composé de soldats de l’ancien président Doe, concluent un accord de paix avec le gouvernement intérimaire d’Amos Sawyer, à Genève, sous l’égide de l’O.N.U., de l’O.U.A. et de la C.E.D.E.A.O. L’accord prévoit l’instauration d’un cessez-le-feu le 1er août, la mise en place d’un Conseil d’État de 5 membres qui dirigera le pays jusqu’aux élections législatives. Durant la période transitoire, les combattants doivent être regroupés et désarmés.
Au début de mars 1994, la Force ouest-africaine d’interposition commence à désarmer les factions et, sous les auspices de la C.E.D.E.A.O., les 5 membres du Conseil d’État prêtent serment.
Au début de mai, les institutions de transition sont au complet. Les ministres ont été nommés par chacune des 3 parties signataires de l’accord de juillet 1993, le F.N.P.L., l’Ulimo et le gouvernement provisoire. Mais le processus de paix tourne court, les élections sont reportées et les combats reprennent.
Le 19 août 1995, les chefs de factions libériens, réunis à Abuja, au Nigeria, sous l’égide de la C.E.D.E.A.O., signent un accord de paix qui prévoit l’entrée en vigueur d’un cessez-le-feu et l’instauration d’institutions de transition chargées de désarmer les belligérants et d’organiser des élections dans un délai d’un an. Le nouveau Conseil d’État est présidé par un universitaire, Wilton Sawankulo, et comprend 6 membres dont les chefs militaires des 3 principales factions: Charles Taylor du F.N.P.L., Alhaji Kromah de l’Ulimo et George Boley du Conseil pour la paix au Liberia. Il s’agit du treizième accord de paix depuis le début de la guerre civile déclenchée en décembre 1989 par l’offensive des rebelles de Charles Taylor contre le régime de Samuel Doe. Le conflit a causé, depuis lors, quelque 150 000 morts et provoqué l’exil et l’exode de 2 millions de personnes environ. Le 26, le cessez-le-feu entre en vigueur. Le 1er septembre, les membres du Conseil d’État prêtent serment. Le 2, celui-ci nomme un gouvernement de coalition.
Le 6 avril 1996, malgré l’accord de paix signé en août 1995, des affrontements éclatent à Monrovia, au lendemain de la décision du Conseil d’État de faire arrêter Roosevelt Johnson à la suite des assassinats perpétrés par ses hommes dans la capitale. Les combats opposent les milices de l’ethnie krahn, dont celle que dirige Roosevelt Johnson, qui sont peu représentées au sein du Conseil d’État, à leurs rivales mandingues et au F.N.L.P . Les soldats de l’Ecomog n’interviennent pas. Les Krahn s’emparent d’otages civils et de soldats de l’Ecomog et se réfugient dans le camp militaire Barclay, à Monrovia. La capitale est dévastée par les combats. Le 9, les États-Unis décident d’évacuer leurs ressortissants ainsi que les autres étrangers présents à Monrovia. Le 19, les combattants concluent un cessez-le-feu sous l’égide des États-Unis, de l’O.N.U. et du Ghana. Les otages sont libérés. L’Ecomog s’interpose entre les belligérants.
Le 17 août, les dirigeants des pays de la C.E.D.E.A.O. réunis à Abuja (Nigeria) adoptent le calendrier du processus de paix qui doit aboutir, en mai 1997, à l’élection du chef de l’État. Le désarmement des combattants, qui doit être achevé en janvier 1997, est confié à l’Ecomog, sous le contrôle de la C.E.D.E.A.O. et de l’O.N.U. La C.E.D.E.A.O. nomme Ruth Sando Perry à la tête du Conseil d’État. Celle-ci est la première femme à diriger un État africain.
Le 19 juillet 1997, Charles Taylor remporte dès le premier tour, avec 75 p. 100 des suffrages, l’élection présidentielle organisée sous la surveillance de l’Ecomog. Sa formation, le Nouveau Parti patriotique, obtient la majorité absolue au Parlement. Ces scrutins marquent l’achèvement du processus de paix prévu par les accords d’Abuja d’août 1995. Pour la première fois depuis 8 ans, aucun combat n’est signalé.
En 1998, l’insécurité demeure dans le pays dévasté par la guerre civile. L’éclatement de violences sporadiques, notamment dans la capitale, compromet tout espoir de redressement.
Le 17 janvier 1990, le gouvernement ivoirien lance un appel à l’aide internationale alors que les réfugiés, fuyant les combats entre l’armée libérienne et les rebelles, continuent d’affluer en Côte d’Ivoire et en Guinée, les 2 pays limitrophes.
Le 30 juin, après l’échec des pourparlers entre le gouvernement libérien et les rebelles, les États-Unis appellent à la mise en place d’un gouvernement de transition en attendant l’organisation d’élections sous supervision internationale.
Le 11 octobre, alors que la faim devient la principale cause de mortalité dans la région de Monrovia où une cinquantaine de personnes meurent quotidiennement, on apprend que le Programme alimentaire mondial va envoyer 2 300 tonnes de riz; les jours suivants, la C.E.E. accorde 400 000 francs d’aide médicale et 1,5 million de francs en faveur des Libériens réfugiés dans les pays voisins.
GROS PLAN SUR CHARLES TAYLOR
L'ONU, les Britanniques et les Américains
l'accusent d'être le véritable "parrain" du RUF (Front Révolutionnaire
uni, Sierra Leone), qu'il contribua à créer en 1991. On le
soupçonne d'être l'un des principaux animateurs de la subversion
en Afrique de l'Ouest, d'armer des mouvements de guérilla, de contrôler
une partie du commerce illicite de diamant..
Les relations entre la Guinée et le Liberia sont très mauvaises; en effet, Lansana Conté accuse Taylor d'offrir en Guinée un refuge à son opposition armée. En Juin 2000, l'Union européenne a suspendu le versement d'une aide de 47 millions de dollars au Liberia. Le Conseil de sécurité a également adopté une résolution imposant un embargo de 18 mois sur les diamants en provenance des zones contrôlées par le RUF; ceci afin d'étrangler financièrement les rebelles de Foday Sankoh et, au delà, de tarir les sources de revenus occultes de pays comme le Liberia ou le Burkina qui profitent, semble t-il, de l'exploitation sauvage des mines de diamants de la région de Kono, en Sierra-Leone. Des relations étroites existeraient donc entre le chef de l'Etat libérien et Foday Sankoh.
For much of the last 20 years Liberia has been one of the most unstable countries in Africa.
Plagued since the early 1980s by coup attempts and later by civil conflict its economic assets were squandered and rival ethnic fighters outdid each other in brutal savagery.
But two years ago, when Charles Taylor was elected President and included former rivals in his administration, it seemed better times were ahead.
Rebel armies used child soldiers
Within the capital, Monrovia, normality has essentially returned since the days when warlords battled for supremacy, but the recent kidnappings are an indication that border areas remain volatile.
Liberia has always prided itself on being the first independent republic in Africa - it shares with Ethiopia the distinction of being the only African state not to be directly colonised.
Its once flourishing economy relied on exports of rubber, coffee and cocoa and it also has important iron ore, diamond and gold mines.
But much of the country's wealth was plundered during the years of fighting and the government is struggling to regain economic stability.
Monrovia was shattered by war
At the root of Liberia's political problems have been the conflicts between the descendents of American freed slaves settled during the 19th Century and the indigenous ethnic groups.
The settlers formed an Americo-Liberian elite which dominated the country through the long presidencies of William Tubman and William Tolbert.
The wide disparity between the wealthy coastal elites and the rest of the population created civil disunity sparking a military coup led by a member of the Krahn ethnic group, Master Sergeant Samuel Doe in 1980.
President Tolbert was killed and 16 of his senior officials were publicly executed.
Doe promised a return to civilian rule and won a disputed election in 1985, however, he failed to win international acceptance and faced internal insecurity.
On Christmas Eve, 1989, Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) began a rebel assault from the north-eastern province of Nimba - reaching Monrovia by September 1990.
Samuel Doe's interrogation by Prince
Johnson's forces was recorded on video
The conflict forced thousands of Liberians to flee to neighbouring Ivory Coast and Guinea.
Three armed groups competed for Monrovia - the NPFL, a breakaway group led by Prince Yormie Johnson and the Armed Forces of Liberia - AFL - remnants of Doe's army.
It was Prince Johnson's forces which captured Doe, and savagely hacked him to death.
From 1990 onwards there was an escalation of war in Liberia, with new rebel groups establishing powerbases throughout the country.
An African peace-keeping force - ECOMOG - of mainly Nigerian soldiers secured Monrovia and made it a relatively safe haven for civilians but rebel groups continued to control wide swathes of land outside the capital.
Charles Taylor established a rival administration in the central town of Gbarnga, complete with its own currency.
New rebel groups
Continued efforts at establishing peace and re-uniting the country failed and a new rebel movement, the United Liberation Movement of Liberia - ULIMO emerged to challenge the NPFL.
Prince Johnson broke away from Charles
ULIMO, which invaded from Sierra Leone, succeeded in wresting large areas of Lofa and Cape Mount counties in western Liberia from Taylor's forces.
The movement later split into two - ULIMO J - led by Roosevelt Johnson, which was mainly Krahn and ULIMO K, led by Alhaji Kromah, which was principally Mandingo.
By 1993 another armed faction had emerged - the Liberia Peace Council (LPC) which battled the NPFL in south-eastern Liberia.
Against a background of painfully slow negotiations and numerous attempts to reach some kind of power-sharing agreement atrocities continued on all sides. Each step towards peace seemed to reach an impasse resulting in renewed conflict.
In April 1996, fighting erupted in central Monrovia and 40 Lebanese and 25 Nigerians were seized as US warships headed for the region
Charles Taylor - President at last
The breakthrough came with a peace agreement signed at Abuja in Nigeria in August 1995 and the subsequent deployment of ECOMOG troops throughout Liberia.
Although hostilities continued the ceasefire generally held and rebel fighters slowly began to disarm, returning to Monrovia after years in the bush.
After many last minute hitches on 19 July 1997 Liberia finally went to the polls - with Charles Taylor securing an outright victory.
Shortly after his inaugeration, President Taylor accused ULIMO-K of re-assembling in Sierra Leone with the aim of destabilising his government.
Monrovia, after several troubled years, is now essentially calm, but the government still has much to do to make Liberia an economically effective and politically stable nation.
The porous borders of troubled west African countries, populated by displaced people and disgruntled former rebels are likely to prove a source of ferment for the forseeable future.
Up to 20 people a day are dying in
an outbreak of cholera, according to reports from the remote south-east
The director of the only hospital in the region, Jackson Dueh, said the situation was alarming.
A lack of drugs and the difficulty of transport in Grand Kru county meant the cholera was reaching epidemic proportions.
The outbreak is being blamed on the lack of safe drinking water across the county.
Residents of Grand Kru collect drinking water from contaminated creeks, which are also used by herders to water their cattle.
Cholera is spread chiefly through contaminated water.
The regional capital of Barclayville is among the settlements affected by the outbreak.
Grand Kru is one of Liberia's least developed and most inaccessible areas.
The government's immediate response to the problems caused by the area's isolation has been to provide four-wheel drive for all 90 members of the Liberian parliament to visit their constituencies.
President Charles Taylor warned the MPs not to drive their new vehicles round the streets of the capital but to use them to make contact with their constituents, "otherwise your people will replace you".
The Liberian Government has denied helping to support rebel forces in Sierra Leone.
It was responding to accusations by the commander of the West African intervention force in Sierra Leone, Ecomog, that it allowed arms supplies through its territory.
The Liberian Information Minister, Joe Mulbah, dismissed the claim by Major General Felix Mujakperuo as an empty alarm.
He said General Mujakperuo had scant
knowledge about the geography of Liberia.
Mr Mulbah said that the charges had come at a time when Liberia and Sierra Leone were trying to improve their relations.
General Mujakperuo, whose force supports the Sierra Leonean Government, said the rebels had been supplied by arms flights through Liberia and Burkina Faso.
He said Ecomog would strike at all channels supplying the rebels, whether by land, sea or air.
General Mujakperuo said that support given to the Sierra Leone rebels was evil and to be condemned.
BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle said it was Ecomog's most strongly worded public warning to the two countries and reflected the extent to which West Africa has been split by the war in Sierra Leone.
The Nigerian-led Ecomog force is made up by soldiers from four West African states.
Liberia has consistently denied supporting the rebels. But countries outside the region such as the UK and US have backed allegations against it.
More than 20,000 people have died in the Sierra Leone civil war and 500,000 have fled to neighbouring states, creating the largest refugee population in Africa.
The rebels have caused widespread
terror by cutting off the limbs of thousands of people perceived to oppose
President Kabbah has promised to pursue peace talks with the rebels to end the nine-year conflict.
Fighting around the northern Liberian
Voinjama has forced 6,000 refugees to cross into neighboring
Guinea, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday.
An attack on the town last Wednesday also forced the evacuation
of aid workers. Fighters briefly held Voinjama before being
repelled by Liberian government soldiers.
No injuries were reported among the refugees, who arrived in the
Guinean towns of Badiaro and Massadou late last week, the agency
Witnesses said anywhere from 20 to 50 of the attackers were
killed during the attack. They were believed to be remnants of a
rebel group opposed to the government of President Charles Taylor.
Taylor, a former warlord, was elected president of the west
African nation in 1997. He has recently accused the rebels of
training fighters in Guinea.
Guinea, a poor country with a population of 7 million, is
struggling to host 470,000 refugees, 350,000 of them from Sierra
Leone and 120,000 from Liberia.
Former fighters in Liberia's brutal
civil war laughed and jumped around a symbolic pyre, as 1,500 guns
were burned in a gesture intended to show the world this West
African country is ready to lay to rest its violent past.
The ceremony Monday at Monrovia's main military barracks came
three years after the war ended and was timed to coincide with the
152nd anniversary of the country's independence.
Former faction fighters _ now members of the national army _
posed for pictures in front of the burning pile of weapons as thick
smoke billowed up, and a group of children released white doves.
``We have agreed that this weaponry, which could have been used
by the reconstructed armed forces, must be destroyed,'' President
Charles Taylor told the gathering, which included Nigerian
President Olusegun Obasanjo, Sierra Leone's president, Ahmed Tejan
Kabbah, and other regional leaders.
``We destroy these weapons because of our passion for peace and
our undying desire to ... close this dark period of national
While the arms-burning in Monrovia was a symbolic act, the real
weapons destruction is taking place over several days at an
abandoned iron ore mine about 40 miles northwest of the capital.
There, the first boxes of ammunition were exploded Sunday in metal
In the streets outside the barracks Monday, people sang and
``For us to live to see this wonderful day, it makes us so
happy,'' said Wonderfum Kreh, a 31-year-old mother of two who sang
hymns and beat the lid of a pot with a metal spoon in front of her
crumbling, bullet-marked home.
Others were more skeptical.
``I don't think it makes any difference, because even if they
destroy these weapons, there are still more out there,'' said
Cecilia Jallah, a 39-year-old school teacher.
Away from the barracks, the streets were quiet. Some said they
were put off by the presence of armed soldiers throughout the city,
and the traffic jams that created. Others said they simply didn't
have the money to attend the celebration.
Liberia's 1989-96 civil war ravaged this country, which was
founded by freed slaves. The war killed 200,000 people, forced half
the nation's 2.6 million inhabitants from their homes and reduced
Monrovia to rubble.
While Liberia is now largely at peace, the country's electrical
service still does not work, many roads in the interior are
impassable during the rainy season and schools, hospitals and
government offices remain woefully without supplies.
Some of Taylor's critics also say the former warlord has not
done enough to integrate the ex-combatants into society _ and has
filled the ranks of the military and security services with his own
Fearing the possibility of more violence, foreign aid and
investment has been slow to return to the country, where jobs
``I was thinking that by the end of the war, everything was
going to be improved, but now things are so hard, harder than
before,'' said Vani Morris, who was recruited at 16 by an ethnic
Krahn faction known as the Liberian Peace Council.
Two years later, Morris lost a foot and an eye in a rocket
attack. He now lives in an overcrowded building provided by the
government for injured former fighters.
While noting that weapons destruction was a key
confidence-building measure, U.N. envoy Felix Downes-Thomas said
the government still needs to take steps to create jobs and
``If you create jobs for those who would be tempted to use these
weapons, that is the best disincentive,'' he said.
The United Nations and West African peacekeepers collected about
30,000 weapons and more than 2 million rounds of ammunition at the
end of Liberia's civil war.
The decision to destroy them came after months of negotiations
between the United Nations and Taylor's government, which initially
wanted to destroy only the unusable arms, arguing the new national
army needed weapons the country could not afford to buy.
Fighting has broken out in the West African state of Liberia after the government said dissident forces had invaded from neighbouring Guinea.
In an emergency address to the nation, the Liberian president, Charles Taylor, said the dissidents had occupied a frontier town Kalahun.
He said he'd ordered the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone closed until further notice and that reinforcements were being sent to the area.
He's also declared a state of emergency there.
President Taylor didn't identify the dissident forces, but he's blamed previous border attacks on supporters of his former rivals during Liberia's civil war. Mr Taylor also implicitly accused Guinea of not doing enough to halt attacks from its territory.
President Charles Taylor declared
a state of emergency today in a northern county where he said
insurgents based in neighboring Guinea had captured several towns overnight.
Taylor told reporters the fighters crossed the border and seized Kolahun, one of Lofa County's main towns, and several surrounding communities.
Government forces were being rushed to the front, and Taylor called on all ``able-bodied men'' to report for military service.
There were no immediate casualty reports.
The reported attack seemed to resemble cross-border incursions in April by armed men that Taylor claimed were Liberian dissidents. Those attacks were quickly repelled by the Liberian army.
Heavy fighting is reported from the
area of Liberia where nearly 100 captive aid workers were released by rebels
late on Friday.
The freed hostages, who crossed the border into neighbouring Guinea after being released, are due to arrive in the Guinean capital Conakry on Saturday.
About half the hostages were Liberians and half foreigners, including four Britons.
But only hours after their release, rebel forces in northwestern Liberia attacked government forces, according to reports based on the monitoring of military information and the accounts of refugees who had fled the fighting.
The reports spoke of about 1,000 rebels using heavy weapons, but Defence Minister Daniel Chea put the figure at between 500 and 800.
Mr Chea also said the government's counter offensive was yielding some "positive results".
"We have recaptured Kolahun and the nearby provincial town of Foya from the dissidents," the minister told reporters.
Reinforcements août 1999
Liberia sent military reinforcements to its troubled northwest this week, following the capture of six foreign hostages.
On Friday the rebels detained many more aid workers who were trying to flee the ensuing fighting.
The combined group of nearly 100 hostages was eventually allowed to cross the border into neighbouring Guinea.
They spent Friday night in a camp
run by the relief organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres, from where they
are due to travel to Conakry.
MSF director Alex Parisel said the organisation's first contact with the hostages had been "quite emotional".
Two of the captured aid workers were employed by MSF.
"Everything seems perfectly okay for them," Dr Parisel said.
Dr Bruce Laurence, medical director of the charity Merlin which employs three of the four Britons taken hostage, said the organisation took a "calculated risk" in sending staff to dangerous areas.
"We work in areas of extreme need, and we take the risk because the need is so great that we need to do so," he told the BBC.
Former warlord blamed
The identity of the rebel group is still not clear, though the hostage-takers said they were part of an organisation called the Joint Forces for the Liberation of Liberia.
Mr Chea suggested the rebels were members of the disbanded Mandingo wing of the United Liberation Movement, the militia group that was loyal to former warlord Alhaji Kromah during the civil war which formally ended in 1997.
Mr Kromah currently lives in the United States.
But a rebel commander who contacted the BBC, calling himself 2nd Lieutenant 'Mosquito Spray', said the rebels did not owe allegiance to any of Liberia's former faction leaders.
Liberian President Charles Taylor has accused Guinea of harbouring the rebels, an accusation denied by Conakry.
Liberia says its forces have recaptured the main towns in the north of the country which were briefly held by hostage-taking rebels last week.
Defence Minister Daniel Chea: "We
will use every means at our disposal"
However, the government admits there is still fierce fighting for control of Voinjama, near the Guinean border.
Defence Minister Daniel Chea told the BBC that Liberian forces were trying to oust "invading forces" but were coming under artillery fire from the direction of the Guinea border.
"We will not be intimidated or sit back," he said. "Nothing is going to stop us."
Earlier Information Minister Joe Mulbah said a "serious mopping up" operation was underway
Liberia have announced that the northern towns of Kolahun, Foya and Mendekoma are "completely" under the control of Liberian army troops .
However, these accounts have been disputed by an opponent of the Liberian Government who told the BBC that his unnamed "resistance group" were still in control of towns in the north.
Massa Nyoissun kai Massa disputes
the Liberian Government account
Massa Nyoissun kai Massa said: "Not an inch of territory that we captured in Lofa County has been taken from us."
Liberian military sources believe many of the rebels have fled back over the border to Guinea.
However it is difficult to confirm either the government or the rebel account as no journalists have reached northern Liberia.
The six western hostages who were held by rebels in Liberia last week after being seized from their aid agency compound are still in the capital of neighbouring Guinea after arriving on Saturday night.
Reports speak of 1,000 rebel insurgents
They have expressed concern for some 90 Liberian aid workers and fellow captives, who are reported to still be behind the sealed border with Guinea.
A British diplomat said the Liberians crossed the border but had been stopped by the Guinea authorities who insisted that although the Europeans were allowed through, the border was officially closed.
The ex-hostages, four Britons, an Italian and a Norwegian and at least one Liberian, were freed on Friday.
Some of them told relatives they believed the ragged army that seized the group had been acting more out of fright than a desire to harm their captives.
"The rebels themselves were scared and trying to return to Guinea or Sierra Leone," said Agnes Nam of Wales, whose midwife daughter Sara was one of those held.
Aid workers have said northern Liberia has been increasingly unstable in recent months, with banditry and ethnic feuding becoming more common
Liberia has appealed for urgent United
Nations food and medical aid to deal with a worsening humanitarian emergency
in the north.
Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah says Liberia does not have the means to cope with waves of civilians fleeing fighting between governemnt troops and rebels.
However, a World Food Program official indicated that international aid organisations might not be able to provide immediate relief to the remote region.
Government troops are reported to be making significant advances against rebels who invaded Lofa County, but contrary to earlier reports have not taken the border town of Voinjama.
Mr Mulbah said whole towns were being
burnt in "rampant acts of arson" - with thousands of civilians caught in
the crossfire, and an unknown number killed.
He said government forces were exerting "all efforts to stop civilian casualties".
Independent verification of acocunts of the fighting are difficult, as no journalists are allowed into the area.
Reports said there were about 1,000
The United Nations refugee agency has also expressed concern for the thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees living in northern Liberia.
The Sierra Leonean ambassador in Liberia says he believes that most of the more than 80,000 refugees in the area have fled into the bush.
The UNHCR, which says it hopes to be able to return to the area soon, pulled its staff out of the region last week because of the security situation and the taking of hostages by rebels.
It has been asked by Sierra Leone
to investigate reports that some refugees have been shot, while others
are dying of hunger.
Earlier this week the government announced the capture of the towns of Foya, Kolahun and Medekoma.
The fighting began last week when armed insurgents crossed into Lofa county from neighbouring Guinea.
Guinea denies Liberian accusations
that it supports the rebels.
Guinean President Lansana Conte also accused the Liberian authorities of ingratitude towards his country.
Speaking on Africa No 1 radio he said that "Guinea continues to give assistance and to harbour thousands of Liberian refugees".
Reports from the Liberian capital, Monrovia, say the final contingent of troops from the West African intervention force, ECOMOG, has withdrawn from the country.
The Ghanaian troops had stayed in Liberia to complete the destruction of weapons collected during the disarmament campaign launched when the eight-year civil war came to an end two years ago.
The Nigerian-led force moved into Liberia in 1990, a year after anti-government factions began military action to oust President Samuel Doe.
After the president was executed, the dominant faction leader, Charles Taylor, continued to face opposition from other rebel leaders until he was elected to power two years ago.
Since then, ECOMOG has been engaged in restoring order and aiding the former combatants to return to civilian life.
The Liberian president, Charles Taylor, has invited two men he fought against during the civil war to return from exile and help re-build the country.
Liberian state radio said President Taylor extended the invitation to Alhaji Kromah and George Boley in remarks to media chiefs which were broadcast today. It said President Taylor made no reference to another rival, Roosevelt Johnson. In a separate New Year address, President Taylor lashed out at members of parliament including those from his ruling party.
He accused them of sitting on the fence when bills were debated in parliament.
He said he was the only politician who was truly elected by the people, while all others were appointed by their parties. The BBC correspondent in Liberia says the implication by President Taylor is that ruling party MPs can be dismissed by the party hierarchy.
Our correspondent says his remarks have gone down badly with the MPs, who have reportedly threatened to resign if he doesn't retract his statement.
LIBERIAN President Charles Taylor
is suing the London Times for quoting a book accusing him of being a cannibal.
The book, The Mask of Anarchy by Oxford-educated scholar Stephen Ellis, accuses Taylor of "indulging in human sacrifice and the ritualistic consumption of human body parts". The Times article, which appeared on its foreign pages on November 2 1999, also mentioned "reports and rumours of Mr Taylor's alleged cannibalism, including drinking the blood of his murdered rivals".
Taylor's writ also highlights the claims in the article that "specific individuals were selected for human sacrifice and consumption, a practice believed by some Liberians to confer power on the participants. Many of these bloody rituals were allegedly carried out in Charles Taylor's house."
The Mask of Anarchy has been praised elsewhere for its balanced approach. On December 26 the Sunday Telegraph also ran a piece about the book. It was clearly labelled as a review. The reviewer wrote: "In the course of the [Liberian civil] war, children were turned into psychopathic fighters and cannibalism was rampant. Mr Ellis deals with this most sensational aspect of the conflict without titillating the reader. He argues that human sacrifice and cannibalism had long been a part of Liberian ritual practice, but under the control of traditional spiritual leaders, who limited it to special occasions. The authority of these spiritual leaders was destroyed during the war, and so cannibalism broke its traditional bounds. Young fighters, high on drugs and alcohol, tried to assimilate the power of the slain by eating parts of them."
It seems because there was no specific mention of Taylor in the Sunday Telegraph account, its reviewer has been spared a writ. It is one thing to mention cannibalism generally and quite another to allege that it actually took place in the president's house.
The Times has stated it intends to contest the action vigorously. But British libel law does not favour defendants and substantiating claims based on allegations made in a book will not be easy. In Liberia, it is accepted that various factions engaged in atrocities during the civil war. That does not mean The Times will be able to prove that the current president presided over human sacrifice in his own house. On the other hand, Taylor is unlikely to want to take the stand in a London court to prove that he has a reputation to protect.
European Union foreign ministers have agreed to a British request to suspend aid to Liberia because of its support for rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
If we are to secure lasting peace and stability in Sierra Leone, we must be able to stem the flow of illicit weapons to the rebels in that country from outside
UK Foreign Office Minister Keith
A package of development aid worth £35m will be held back as a signal to the the West African state that it should cut its trading links with the Revolutionary United Front rebels.
The suspension follows UK allegations that Liberian President Charles Taylor sells guns to the RUF, which still holds large parts of Sierra Leone, in return for diamonds.
The long running conflict in Sierra Leone has been financed by diamonds, and has largely been about who controls the country's diamond mines.
Charles Taylor: Profiting from the Sierra Leone war
Regional analysts say dealing with
Liberia is the key to resolving the conflict, which has seen tens of thousands
killed and mutilated.
Over the last two years, the value of official annual diamond exports by Sierra Leone has halved to $30m.
But in the same period, diamond exports by Liberia - a country which possesses relatively few diamond fields - has risen dramatically to $300m.
The money for Liberia will be delayed
until the European Union is convinced that the assistance given to the
rebels has stopped.
The UK is a key ally of the Sierra Leone Government
After a meeting in Luxembourg, the ministers also gave a blunt warning that all EU policy towards Liberia would in future take account of Liberian behaviour with regard to Sierra Leone.
However the ministers also said they acknowledged the responsible role which President Taylor had played in the release of the UN detainees held by the Sierra Leonean rebels.
Our correspondent says there appears to be some hope that President Taylor can be persuaded to change policy and, as the ministers put it, to contribute to a solution to the crisis in Sierra Leone.
Meanwhile, senior Liberian politicians
say that Liberian dissidents operating across the border in Sierra Leone
are planning to attack Liberia.
Charles Taylor secured the release of 500 UN peacekeepers captured by RUF rebels
Defence Minister Daniel Chea said the dissidents - members of the defunct Ulimo rebel group and remnants of the former Liberian army - have been fighting alongside pro-government forces in Sierra Leone in the civil war there.
Newspaper reports in Liberia quote the head of the ruling party, John Whitfield, as saying that 7,000 dissidents were poised to attack Liberia from three neighbouring countries.
There has been no independent verification of the reports.
As the Liberian presidential jet touched down in the capital, Monrovia, the carefully choreographed crowd in national costumes sang and danced. It was a hero's homecoming for President Charles Taylor.
Then, at his executive mansion, I watched Mr Taylor preside over a thanksgiving for his success in persuading the rebels in Sierra Leone to free the UN hostages and the efforts he had made to bring peace there.
Liberia went through 6 years of bitter civil war
In a rousing speech to the mansion faithful, President Taylor responded to the accusation that his government supplies the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) with arms in return for diamonds.
"You hear them talking about gun-running and diamond smuggling," he said.
"It's the movies. They tried to say that we, the Liberian people, are thriving because of Sierra Leonean diamonds."
Liberia mined diamonds enough of its own, the president said.
Thumping the rostrum, he insisted that the only nation presently gun-running was Britain, which was giving weapons to Sierra Leone's unreliable army.
"This government is opposed to the British Government arming any group in Sierra Leone because we believe it poses a direct threat to the peace in Sierra Leone," he argued.
A man fighting in the bush wants
to know that the man he's handing his gun is not going to receive it and
shoot him in the back, that's all.
He said security was the task of peacekeepers - and added that Liberia had a role to play there.
Liberian troops would join a West African mission to Sierra Leone because the rebels needed a force they could trust if they were to disarm, he said
"A man fighting in the bush wants to know that the man he's handing his gun is not going to receive it and shoot him in the back, that's all," Mr Taylor said, amid applause.
Charles Taylor provided guidance to Sierra Leone's rebel forces
President Taylor's influence with
Sierra Leone's rebels is clear.
He helped to found their movement when he was waging his own guerrilla revolt in the bush, and he is still their mentor and protector.
I found evidence of that in a camp for 15,000 refugees from Sierra Leone just inside the Liberian border.
Families told me fearfully that RUF
men roamed everywhere.
"They just live in the camps with us, just going about their business, normal business," a refugee said.
"But we know some of them. That's how we know they are here."
"I was somehow afraid when I saw them because I know what they have done to us," added another resident of the camp.
Sierra Leoneans blame Mr Taylor personally for the rebels' role in Sierra Leone.
"The people of Liberia are already being punished for the president's machinations," one inmate of the refugee camp said.
Since Charles Taylor won power three years ago, there has been little international aid to piece this war-wrecked country together again.
The UK recently succeeded in blocking $53m in European aid to Liberia, on the grounds that Mr Taylor had been trading guns for diamonds with the RUF.
We have had a very serious war in
this country. Our country is devastated. Up to now, we don't have water,
we don't have electricity.
Among the ruins on the campus of the University of Liberia, I found a group of students angrily berating their government in debate.
Students' Union vice-president Bono Masamviana said that Liberia would never recover while Western powers which might help reviled it as a pariah state.
"We have had a very serious war in this country," he said.
"Our country is devastated. Up to now, we don't have water, we don't have electricity.
Monrovia: The Liberian capital still lies in ruins after years of conflict
"If indeed, it's true that our government is involved in gun-running or in diamond business in Sierra Leone, we are encouraging it to stop and be much more concerned about our plight so that we can be able again to rejoin the community of nations so that we can get our place in international world."
Charles Taylor may aspire to the role of the statesman who will bring peace to West Africa.
But most here believe he has too big a part in the plot.
THE Liberian government on Wednesday
closed down the privately owned Star radio station and suspended Radio
Veritas, citing security reasons.
"The government of the Republic of Liberia views with grave concern the rising incidence of inflammatory statements, comments and radio programming filling the airways in recent times which appear to be creating tension in society," it said in a statement.
It accused "agents provocateurs" of using the news media, especially radio stations, to create security problems.
Witnesses said at least 12 police officers had moved into the Star compound and sealed the gate.
The Press Union of Liberia union condemned the move.
"Press freedom has come under vehement attack and the independent media are being endangered," it said in a statement.
"The government's action will certainly have grave consequences for press freedom and the practice of journalism in Liberia, especially when heavily armed police officers are used to implement it," it added.
Star is an independent station established in 1997 after Liberia's eight-year civil war by the Hirondelle Foundation, a Swiss-based non-governmental organisation, with the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Its Internet-based news service has also been closed down.
Radio Veritas is operated by the Roman Catholic church. The government statement said it could start operating again if it provided a written assurance that it would broadcast only religious material.
Three other stations will continue to operate -- the privately owned Ducor; ELWA, a religious station owned by Baptist missionaries; and Liberia Communications Network, which is owned by Liberian President Charles Taylor.
Taylor was elected president in 1997 after a conflict that had divided Liberia on ethnic lines since December 1989.
Unlike the former colonial rulers,
the people enriching themselves through Sierra Leonean diamonds today have
little incentive to guarantee stability.
One of those - if recent investigations into diamond smuggling are to be believed - is President Charles "Chuckie" Taylor of neighbouring Liberia.
Sierra Leone mines some of the world's best diamonds in terms of size and quality, and the predatory forces encroaching on the diamond trade since 1991 have thrived on war and lawlessness to cover their activities.
Taylor, like Sankoh, put boys at the sharp end of the rebellion
Western intelligence reports say Liberia is the main conduit for smuggled diamonds out of Sierra Leone, while Mr Taylor, a long-time ally of Sierra Leone's rebel leader Foday Sankoh, has supplied many of the weapons and drugs that have fuelled the civil war.
Mr Taylor still maintains close links with field commanders of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which now controls most of the diamond producing areas in north and east Sierra Leone.
Major crime centre
Mr Taylor has always denied playing a destabilising role in Sierra Leone, but his protestations are hard to square with the available data.
Liberia's annual capacity for diamond mining is 100,000-150,000 carats, but imports of diamonds from Liberia to Belgium, where more than half the world's rough stones are traded, rose to 6 million carats in the late 1990s as the war in Sierra Leone was raging.
A recent study by Partnership Africa Canada says Liberia has become "a major centre for massive diamond-related criminal activity, with connections to guns, drugs and money laundering throughout Africa and considerably further afield".
The Ottawa-based group says Liberia has supplied weapons to rebels in a number of diamond producing countries "fuelling war and providing a safe haven for organised crime of all sorts".
Charles Taylor launched a military rebellion against the government of Samuel Doe in late 1989 which led to six years of bitter civil war.
His rise was mirrored by that of the RUF, the rebel organisation set up by Foday Sankoh in 1991, with the help of Mr Taylor.
Both rebel armies used brutal tactics to terrorise the civilian populations and put children in the front line.
After killing some 200,000 Liberians and displacing hundreds of thousands more, the war ground to a halt and Mr Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) scored an overwhelming election victory in July 1997.
Since his political victory he has sought portray himself in the role of as measured statesman rather than warlord.
His recent "good offices" between the rebels and the United Nations in Sierra Leone are being seen as an attempt to enhance that image.
Certainly, Liberia has benefited in terms of stability since Mr Taylor was elected, but as the recent closure of two independent radio stations attests - they had broadcast items critical of the government - he still holds the country in a iron grip.
Jeune Afrique Economie
Site infobeat (www.infobeat.com)