USAmbassador Blaney Says Conditions in Liberia are not Right for Free and Fair Elections

(Press Releasee)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 3, 2003

Amb. Blaney
Editor's Note: Ambassador John Blaney says conditions in Liberia are not yet right for free and fair elections. Below is the full text of Mr. Blaney's remarks:

Press Statement Delivered by John Blaney
US Ambassador to Liberia
U.S. Embassy Office of Public Affairs
111 United Nations Drive, Mamba Point
Monrovia, Liberia

Immediate Press Release

Happy New Year!

On behalf of the people of the United States, I want to extend to Liberians our wish for a happy 2003. May it be a more peaceful, healthier, happier and successful time for Liberia.

On a personal note, I just wanted to thank all Liberians, both inside and outside Monrovia, who have made me feel at home in the first few months of my time as U.S. Ambassador to Liberia.

Everywhere I've gone in this country, Liberian have told me emphatically that they want peace most of all. So, I have been working hard on that lately. Let's begin with that topic.

International Contact Group (ICG) Meeting

Although I cannot speak for the International Contact Group as a whole, I wanted to give you some U.S. Government perspectives on that important meeting. This is especially appropriate as well because I live in Liberia, information directly from someone who sits as a member of the International Contact Group (ICG).

First of all, I am pleased to say that the ICG meeting that took place on the 19th of December in Senegal was successful in the view of my government. You may have seen the ICG's press release, including its commitment to meet again soon in New York.

The ICG will be moving ahead on developing its work agenda and proposals, which are designed to achieve peace in Liberia. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate what those proposals might be.

However, I would like to comment that it is significant that key states and international institutions have united to use their combined influence to help resolve Liberia's programs through the ICG. Clearly, ICG represents the best opportunity for peace and reconciliation in Liberia.

As you know, since I arrived here, I have been trying to help develop a genuine peace process. And, "process" is really the key word. While individual meetings at various levels and conferences can be useful, only a genuine peace process can provide the requisite and sustained focus that produces solid results.

That is why I must say now, and early on, to all parties of this conflict that the United States expects all parties to the conflict to regard the ICG as the primary institution and focal point for achieving peace.

To the Government of Liberia, let me just say that the question of relative status of the various parties to the conflict did not, in my recollection, come up during the meeting of the ICG. The official press release of the ICG does not contain the phrase "belligerent forces." But, even if it had, citing the use of the words "belligerent forces" as assigning or implying any kind of relative status among the parties is without any linguistic foundation. It merely means that the parties described are at war or in conflict.

To the LURD let me say that the ICG has clearly indicated its willingness to try and bring about a ceasefire. Let me state clearly that the USG does not believe that there can be a military solution to Liberia's problems. The US believes that the LURD should agree to a ceasefire and use the Political process to advance its objectives. The USG does not support the LURD and urges an end to all military support to the LURD, from whatever source. The LURD must be prepared to work with the ICG.

Indeed, the Government of Liberia, opposition parties both here and abroad, other governments concerned, including that of Guinea, and other social and religious groups in Liberia also need to work and cooperate with the ICG if peace is to be attained.

What will be unacceptable, in the view of the United States, will be any attempt to shift the focus of negotiations to another venue. Perpetually switching the location and composition of peace talks is one of the oldest tactics and tricks in the world for ensuring the failure of peace negotiations.

In fact, the United States will regard any party that attempts to walk away from the ICG as essentially an opponent of peace; and should be condemned as anti-peace.

Hassan Bility and other prisoners

I want to make couple of points to set the record straight. First, the United States did in fact seek the release of Hassan Bility and others from prison. In the case of Hassan Bility, we did so because this individual had been held in prison for many months without ever having been charged with any crime. Furthermore, he was tortured during his incarceration.

As a violation of human rights, we were, of course, concerned. We also assessed the removal of Hassan Bility's case from the civilian court system and the denial of due process as very worrisome for the future of rule of law in Liberia. So, we hoped that facilitating his release might also give the legal system here a chance-hit kind of "reset" button. In other words, we wanted to provide the opportunity for the Government and judicial system to turn a page, and thereby strengthen systematically the rule of law and due process in Liberia.

Please note that our reasons for doing these things do not revolve around whether we thought Mr. Bility was or was not guilty of any crime. That is not the point. An honest and competent civilian court should have judged that question, not any individual or official, and it becomes clear, unfortunately, that the judicial system had been shredded by the Bility case. That systemic breakdown, and the fact that he was being tortured, prompted the U.S. to request his release.

At no time, however, did the United States request that Mr. Bility be released to the Embassy here. We merely wanted him to be released. The government, however, made it clear that his release would not be possible unless we facilitated his temporary exit from Liberia. We agreed reluctantly to the Government of Liberia's condition in this regard.

Finally, a straightforward release of other prisoners was also part of these negotiations and this agreement. The United States looks forward to the Government of Liberia honoring the rest of the terms of this agreement.

Deloitte and Touche Audit and Liberia's Economy

President Taylor recently stated publicly that the United States had blocked Liberia from contracting with Deloitte and Touche, a well-known international audit firm. This is a matter of importance because the United Nations Security Council has encouraged Liberia to audit its timber and shipping registry revenues.

Let me set the record straight. The United States did not stop this firm from contracting with the Government of Liberia.

The United States did, however, suggest that a financial audit should also be performed, and not just a system audit. This would be much more useful by encouraging badly needed financial transparency in Liberia. This is, however, a separate issue. The point here is that the U.S. did not stop this firm from contracting with the Government of Liberia.

Insofar as the economy of Liberia is concerned, the United States sees two major problems. Most importantly, Liberia's economic policies are highly inadequate and not transparent. Secondly, Liberia has been in various types of conflict and chronic instability for many years, causing great hardship and huge economic disruptions and losses. Both of these factors have hurt Liberians terribly, scared off investors and worried donors as well.

The government should not attempt to search for scapegoats such as the UN's

quite limited sanctions regime or foreign governments in order to explain why the electric power is not on, or why other serves in health, education, and transportation and elsewhere have not been provided. Government should instead, look honestly into a mirror, and accept primary responsibility.

Having said that, I again want to say that Liberia's economic situation is not hopeless, particularly if government will take strong reform measures such as the IMF, EU and United States have long proposed, and work hard for peace and stability.

Meanwhile, the United States will work for peace, including participating in the ICG process. We will also continue as Liberia's largest single donor of assistance, but think deep economic reform is absolutely essential if Liberia is to stabilize it economy and make any progress for its people. I have discussed our views on economic reform steps with the Finance Minister, the Governor of the Central Bank and others.

The 2003 Elections

The United States is concerned that preparations for the 2003 elections are inadequate and that necessary conditions do not yet exist to permit free and fair elections. For example, the United States and others have repeatedly encouraged the Government of Liberia to get help on election preparations from the United Nations well beyond requests for security-related assistance. The United Nations has excellent capabilities and long experience through its Electoral Assistance Unit and elsewhere that could play a key role in strengthening the upcoming elections across-the-board. A UN assessment team should be requested urgently.

Harassment of opposition party representatives and opposition party activities as well as the prospect of severely limiting candidates who may run for the presidency are just some of the other worrisome developments.

Let me say plainly that the United States wants to see a free and fair election and will not support nor recognize the results of any fraudulent one.

The State of the Relationship

As most of you know, President Taylor is unhappy with some U.S. policies towards Liberia. He feels it necessary to call for a peaceful NPP demonstration against U.S. polities, but not against Americans.

Well, I will leave it to President Taylor to explain his reasons for calling for such demonstration, and for his other recent criticisms of U.S. Policies.

But for our part, we will respond by continuing to do everything we can to help Liberia and its people. In order to do that, we must present our honest views, and sometimes criticize your government when think it is wrong. That is what really good friends must do instead of pretending that all is well.

And yes, we do suggest different courses of action for your government, but too often this advice is not taken. That is what can create or continue problems and suffering, not the United States. Rest assured, that we do what we do in order to secure a better future for the Liberian people and for peace.

Having said all this, I do admit that I am saddened at the prospect of seeing Liberians demonstrating against America.

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