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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Liberia: War Escalates, White House Indifferent to Crisis

Africa Policy E-Journal
June 26, 2003 (030626)

Liberia: War Escalates, White House Indifferent to Crisis
(Reposted from sources cited below)

"Everybody in the world is sitting to watch us die," a refugee, Suah Kolli, cried at Monrovia's John F. Kennedy hospital where 200 wounded brought in by midday Wednesday overflowed the hospital's wards and lay sprawled, moaning and bleeding, in slippery hallways. (Associated Press, June 26, 2003).

Despite a cease-fire brokered in West African-mediated peace talks earlier this month, fighting escalated again in Liberia's capital this week, with hundreds reported dead. While African and UN diplomats continued efforts to restore peace, and the British head of a UN Security Council delegation appealed for the U.S. to take the lead, the U.S. government remained ostentatiously indifferent to the crisis in the West African country. This posting contains excerpts from a UN press briefing on the Security Council mission to West Africa, and the most recent summaries from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN).

U.S. President Bush is now scheduled to visit five African countries beginning on July 7: Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria. The main themes of the trip, according to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, will be trade, democracy, and HIV/AIDS.

Africa Action Media Advisory:
July 2 Briefing for White House Press Corps and other media

"Heart of Darkness:
The Truth about Africa Policy under the Bush Administration"
Salih Booker, Executive Director, Africa Action; Bill Fletcher Jr., President, TransAfrica Forum; Njoki Njoroge Njehu, Director, 50 Years is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice; Emira Woods, Co-Director, Foreign Policy in Focus

More on President Bush's trip and U.S. Policy: and

White House Africa Page

Earlier E-Journal postings on Liberia>>

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Press Briefing - June 25, 2003


Briefing correspondents on the eve of the Security Council's mission to seven West African countries, the United Kingdom's Permanent Representative, Jeremy Greenstock, who will lead the mission, told correspondents that it would focus on three principal issues, namely, the situations in Guinea-Bissau, Ccte d'Ivoire and Liberia. ...

The eight-day mission, which will leave this evening and return on 5 July, will also visit Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. In executing the mission, he said he was pleased to be working closely with regional governments and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), particularly on Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia, and with the Economic and Social Council on the issue of Guinea-Bissau.

The mission would begin in Guinea-Bissau, which, he said, was more a question of peace-building, or "trying to get a sensitive and fragile internal situation going better".

In Cote d'Ivoire, he continued, the mission would follow on the heels of work within the region to implement the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement. The Agreement was a good agreement that must be built upon between the protagonists in the recent civil strife, particularly in the North and West of Cote d'Ivoire, following a long period of political breakdown between different factions. ...

There was a strong recognition within the Council that France had played a positive role in Cote d'Ivoire in helping to engage the parties in a cessation of hostilities and in the ceasefire that had lead to the Agreement, he added. France was continuing to play an important peacekeeping and peace observation role. As a member of the collective mission on the Security Council, France was not playing a separate role from the rest of the mission. The presence of French peacekeeping forces on the ground, however, was important until other arrangements could be made.

"In Liberia, we obviously have a moving situation -- a pretty distressing situation", he said. There was an agreement to observe an ECOWAS-negotiated cessation of hostilities and ceasefire, which was to have led to discussions on a political agreement to replace the current political arrangement with a more broadly based transitional government. “That work still needs to be done”, he said.

The ECOWAS, which was in the lead, was supported by a contact group of interested international players, including some European States and the United States, he said. The contact group was supporting the ECOWAS negotiation. The Security Council wanted to lend its own support to the negotiation. In that respect, it would try to use its weight to persuade all the factions to agree on what the next political arrangements should be.

"It's been very public that a strong candidate for one of those arrangements should be an end to the current Government led by President Charles Taylor, who has, at least at times, offered to give up his presidency for the sake of the wider benefit of the Liberian people”, he said. The negotiations needed to continue and the ceasefire needed to hold. He was sure that the Security Council members would sympathize with the Secretary-General's statement today on the ongoing violence around Monrovia, which could only cause further distress to the people living or trapped there. He was also sure that the Council would also share the Secretary-General's condemnation of the apparent attempt to use armed violence to solve political questions.

The Security Council could not send a mission to a country where armed conflict was taking place without putting a tremendous strain on security organizations, he said. The mission would, therefore, follow security advice in deciding whether or not to go to Liberia. If the mission were unable to fly to Monrovia, it would use that time, with the permission of Ghana's Government, to return to Accra to talk to members of the factions relevant to a peace agreement, as well as to representatives of civil society and humanitarian organizations, either in Accra or Abidjan. If the mission were unable to go to Monrovia for security reasons, it would not lessen its attention to the conflict.

The mission would also visit Guinea and Sierra Leone, the other two of the three countries of the Mano River Union, to seek their views on current events, he said. The mission would also study the state of rebuilding process in Sierra Leone and see whether the Rabat agreement arrangements for good practice among the countries of the Mano River Union could be taken further.

After Guinea-Bissau, the mission would travel on Sunday, 29 June, to Abuja to meet with Nigerian President Obasanjo, who was a major regional player with close interest in subjects under discussion, he said. In Accra, Ghana, the mission would meet with President Kufuor, who currently held the rotating ECOWAS chairmanship, on the organization's input into the mission’s three main issues.

He said he would join the mission on Sunday morning in Lagos, before flying to Abuja. Throughout the mission, they would look not only at political issues and regional political structures, but also at humanitarian issues. The region was in a condition of real distress and ordinary people were suffering miserably. The mission had talked in detail with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and with non-governmental and civil society representatives in New York, about their views on Africa. Members of the mission would take with them a number of recommendations for action on humanitarian issues, including the protection of civilians, children recruited for armed conflict and violence against women and children as a tool of war.

The Security Council last went as a mission to the region in October 2000, he said. He had also led that mission, which had centred on Sierra Leone. At that time, he had promised to return to the region before leaving New York for a further mission. He was pleased to lead the mission, within a month of his departure from New York, to fulfil that promise.

Could the Security Council take anything Charles Taylor said seriously, and, given the breakdown of the ceasefire, could it consider an emergency, armed mission to forestall a mass killing in Monrovia? a correspondent asked.

There was no doubt, he responded, that any political pressure on the protagonists in the Liberia conflict, not least Charles Taylor, to compromise and produce a government that would work for the Liberian people depended on pressures exerted by regional leaders. The region needed to own the politics of the Liberia tragedy. The mission was there in a supportive capacity. The Council could generate weight behind the action of political players in the region. The ECOWAS had moved swiftly to instrument the Abu Bakar mediation process. The Council could find ways of exerting extra pressures, and he hoped those pressures, in due course, tell, particularly on President Taylor, who, the Security Council believed, had not served the interest of the Liberian people. The Council was not contemplating the use of force from outside the region to remove him. While there had been an indictment, the Security Council was not there to do the work of the court. In Freetown, Sierra Leone, the mission would visit the Special Court to show its support. ...

Asked whether there was a possibility that the United States would take a leading role in Liberia, he said the United States would have to answer that question. Everyone would think that the United States would be the natural candidate for such an operation. He understood that there was some discussion in Washington about the pros and cons of such action. He respected the United States' wish to take more time on that decision. ...

Rebels Fight Their Way Into Monrovia City Centre

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

June 25, 2003


Liberian rebels fighting to topple President Charles Taylor bombarded the capital city, Monrovia, with heavy mortar and rocket fire throughout the night and punched their way into the city centre on Wednesday morning.

Eyewitnesses said fighters of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel movement, seized control of Monrovia's Bushrod Island, where Liberia's deep water port is situated, and crossed the key Gabriel Tucker bridge into the Mamba Point area of central Monrovia, just before dawn.

Fighting neared the US embassy and UN buildings later on Wednesday morning, pushing the LURD to within four km of the Executive Mansion, the headquarters of President Taylor.

For the first time,the rebels fired rockets as well as mortar shells into various parts of the city. One rocket hit the Health Ministry, a few hundred metres from the Executive Mansion. Two others fell on the beach nearby. Another exploded in the eastern suburb of Sinkor.

Taylor condemned the latest rebel attack on Monrovia in a speech broadcast by local radio stations on Wednesday morning, but he said he would remain in the city to encourage his fighters. Taylor said the peace talks in Accra, Ghana, would continue and the June 17 ceasefire agreement should be respected.

"I have not left this city and I will not leave this city. I will remain to encourage my combatants to fight all the way," Taylor said. "My survival is the Liberian people's survival, your survival is my survival."

But a diplomatic source in Accra said, the LURD's push into the very heart of Monrovia had dealt "a serious blow" to the peace talks. The rebels had earlier threatened to suspend their active participation in the discussions, portesting that Taylor had attacked their positions in contravention of the week-old ceasefire. The Liberian government delegation returned to Monrovia "for consultations".

People begun streaming out of the city centre on Wednesday towards the eastern suburbs of Congotown and Paynesville, seven km away. Most government officials live in Congotown, but they stayed at home. The streets were quiet except for the movement of military units.

Taylor said the rebel advance into the capital was an act of terror. "This blatant act of terror against this city which hosts more than two million people is unacceptable here in Liberia and must be unacceptable to the international community," he said.

A senior government official told IRIN in Abidjan by mobile phone from Congotown that the situation had degenerated into "hell" and there was indiscriminate shooting in the city centre. "The LURD is using very heavy weapons and the government soldiers are trying to fight back. But people are getting hit," he said.

He said the landline telephone network had gone dead and one radio station, DC 101 FM, had gone off the air. "I am trying to confirm why the phone system and the radio went off in the morning," he said. Monrovia's mobile phone network however continued to function.

The head of the Catholic Church in Liberia, Archbishop Michael Francis, told IRIN by telephone from his compound in Sinkor that some people were killed by rocket fire in the western suburb of New Georgia close to the Freeport. Looting, he added, was reported in various parts of the city.

"Nobody is going out. From my compound, I can hear the sounds of heavy gunfire. But I don't have details of what is happening in the city centre," the Archbishop said. The Sinkor area remained quiet.

A relief worker in the city centre told IRIN on Wednesday morning that the situation was "completely upside down." He added: "There was shelling the whole night, fighting is continuing and displaced people are literally everywhere."

The latest battle for Monrovia started over the weekend. LURD fighters reached the western edge of the city on Monday and advanced into its western outskirts on Tuesday, sending thousands of displaced people fleeing to the city centre. Many were abandoning their homes for the second time this month, after fleeing the first rebel incursion into western Monrovia three weeks ago. They had just returned to their homes following the ceasefire agreement.

Another rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), which controls most of southeastern Liberia, has also reported heavy fighting with Taylor's forces in recent days.

Between them, LURD and MODEL control about two thirds of Liberia. The country has been in a state of almost constant civil war since Taylor launched a rebellion against the military regime of Samuel Doe in 1989. Taylor fought his way to power and was formally declared president after winning elections in 1997. Fresh presidential elections were due to be held later this year.

West African Summit Mooted to Revive Peace Talks

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

June 26, 2003


West African mediators of the stalled Liberian peace process have suggested a special African summit to help revive talks on Liberia, which has relapsed into full-scale civil war.

"West African leaders, who convened the peace talks in the first place will have to decide on that. I am meeting the ECOWAS chairman (Ghanaian President John Kufuor) and hopefully within the next 48 hours, we will decide on it," General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the official facilitator of the talks, said in Accra on Wednesday.

The opening of the peace talks in Ghana on June 4 was attended by two of Africa's most influential leaders, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.

Abubakar, a former Nigerian head of state, said one of the issues which would be useful for African heads of state to discuss could be the urgent deployment of an international intervention force in Liberia.

Jeremy Greenstock, the UK representative on the UN Security Council, who is leading a Security Council mission to West Africa, suggested before its departure on Wednesday that the United States, which has traditionally enjoyed close links with Liberia, should lead such a force. He pointed out that Britain had performed a similar function to help end a 10-year civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone and that France was spearheading a peace-keeping force to try and end a civil war in its former colony Cote d'Ivoire.

Abubakar said the latest attempt by the rebel Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) group, to capture the Liberian capital Monrovia had worsened the humanitarian crisis in the city and sent civilians fleeing to the diplomatic quarter in search of safety and protection.

"I am appealing to all the warring factions to stop the fighting and return to the peace-talks," Abubakar told reporters. "Without a break in the fighting, the Joint Verification Team (JVT), whose duty is essential in brokering a comprehensive cease-fire and identifying violators of the cease-fire, cannot be deployed," he added.

The JVT was due to have established the positions of all warring parties on the ground following a June 17 ceasefire agreement which has now broken down. It was to consist of military observers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the international community and two representatives each from the Liberian government, LURD and a second rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL).

However, LURD, which has cooled its enthusiasm for any further discussion with President Charles Taylor, has yet to appoint representatives to the mission, which was due to have started work last weekend.

Representatives of the rebel group, which has been fighting Taylor's forces in Northern Liberia since 1999, said privately that they are determined to remove him by force.

"We are going all out this time," one LURD official at the peace talks in Accra told IRIN. " We will contain Monrovia because we have to minimize the heavy casualties our forces have suffered as a result of Taylor's forces violating the cease-fire and attacking our positions."

MODEL, which has seized much of Southeastern Liberia since it appeared on the scene in March, has also been involved in heavy fighting with government forces since the ceasefire was declared. But publicly it has not taken such a hardline position as LURD.

"We have not done anything to violate the cease-fire agreement we signed on June 17," MODEL spokesman Tiah Slanger told IRIN. " I have promised all Liberians that we are here in Accra for peace. We are not on the offensive. But we will stand prepared and hit back at anyone who comes into our territory to attack us,"

Abubakar reminded all the warring factions of the African Union Declaration on unconstitutional changes of government. The declaration states that: 'every accession to power must be made through free, fair and transparent elections and that there will be zero tolerance for power obtained or maintained by unconstitutional means.'

"The International community will not recognize any party that takes power or maintains power over the population by force. People who claim to be fighting for Liberians should be aware of the suffering they are heaping on their own people," the Nigerian mediator said.

He reminded the warring factions that there can be no substitute for dialogue and that no matter the outcome of the war, Liberians would still need to engage in political dialogue in the search for a durable peace.

General Abubakar indicated that ECOWAS would consider asking the international community to remove the Special Court Indictment on Charles Taylor for war crimes in Sierra Leone if it will bring peace to Liberia.

He however issued a dire warning to the leaders of the two rebel groups, should they persist in fighting despite appeals to them to stop.

"If Taylor was indicted for war crimes, then remember that you can also be indicted for showering undue hardship, pain and suffering on your people if you continue with this war," Abubakar said.

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Date distributed (ymd): 030626
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+ +US policy focus+

The Africa Action E-Journal is a free information service provided by Africa Action, including both original commentary and reposted documents. Africa Action provides this information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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