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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,
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
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:
White House Africa Page
Earlier E-Journal postings on Liberia
Press Briefing - June 25, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING ON SECURITY COUNCIL WEST AFRICA MISSION
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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