Liberia Conference Provokes Scrutiny

By Musue N. Haddad

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 27, 2002

The widespread and in depth opposition to the Liberian government's ongoing National Conference on Peace and Reconciliation have reached the global limelight.

Last month, on July 26th - Liberia's independence day, President Charles Taylor announced that his administration was hosting a reconciliation conference. The conference officially opened on August 24th in Monrovia.

President Taylor publicly invited regional and international organizations including the United Nations, African Union, and Economic Community of West African States.

The Conference Organizing Bureau also published a list of Liberians invited for the conference. While the figures on the list stand at 255 individual invitees, a batch of 20 unnamed persons from each of the 15 counties in the country places Liberians in and out of the country invited at about 555.

However, several Liberians have described the conference as another of the government's propaganda campaign to create an impression that it is prepare to embrace all Liberians from all backgrounds and encourage their contributions and participation in restoring and maintaining peace as well as developmental activities in the country.

The conference has raised a lot of discussions among Liberians, friends of Liberia and those concerned about the peace and stability of the West African sub-region. Many persons made reference to the chains of attempts by national, sub-regional groups during the war with the hope of ending the war.

"All attempts to end the war failed. Attempts after the 1997 elections to also end the conflict in the country also failed miserably. The end result of this conference is already known," one of the most attended persons of the Liberian Peace-talks in the sub-region said.

"The Conference is a sham. If I could enjoy my Right of Choice, I will stay away. Unfortunately, the Rights of everyone in this country: the Right to Think, Movement, Survival and Choice are not guaranteed. We are stripped of every Rights and live like robots, that is why we are attending the conference," a participant of the conference who lives in Liberia said.

A non-Liberian in the country said, "staying away from the conference is like asking to get in Taylor's bad book".

Liberia's Agriculture Minster, Dr. Roland Massaquoi, also Chairperson of the Conference Organizing Bureau in a press conference said the State of Emergency imposed early February would be lifted to enable Liberians outside the country attend the conference.

President Charles Taylor also said measures have been taken to ensure the security of all participants, particularly opposition politicians and exiled Liberians who have been invited for the conference.

Former Interim President Dr. Amos Sawyer said although the government has announced that measures have been taken to guaranteed the security of all persons, he is guided by the saying, "Fool me once, shame on You. Fool me twice, shame on Me".

Dr. Sawyer reflected the State of Emergency which he says gives Taylor absolute power and control and reinforces the atrocities and abuses carried out by government security forces, the attack on him in November 2000 and the arrest and detention of people including Journalist Hassan Bility and others who have been in detention since June 24 without charge.

He said the attack against he and several other persons have not been investigated and those who carried out the act are roaming freely in Liberia.

Dr. Sawyer urged those who have the options to stay away from the conference to do so. He said he would not discourage those in the country from attending the conference, adding, "They are hostages and will show up in large numbers if they are commanded to do so because they know too well the consequences of not showing up."

He said that security is a fundamental right and should be institutionalized and not a favor that should be provided at the will of the president as publicized for participants of the ongoing reconciliation conference.

A founding member and first director of the Liberia Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Samuel Kofi Woods, III, presently in Sierra Leone said no amount of promises can convince him that his security and that of others can be guaranteed in Liberia.

"The Liberian government is an embodiment of inherent contradictions.

There is nothing in the word of the Liberian government that as far as I am concerned can hold," Woods said in an interview.

On government's security assurance to exile Liberians he said, "Liberians must have a choice and freedom of movement. A guarantee of security by the Liberian government confirms that Liberians are not secured inside and even outside of the country".

Former Senator Charles Brumskine supported the stance by others who said they will not attend the conference.

Brumskine said the prevailing human rights abuses that are carried out by members of the security forces with impunity was an obstacle to reconciliation.

"Taylor is a problem in Liberia and has to be a part of the reconciliation process and can not preside over the process", he said.

Opposition Politician, Dusty Wolokollie said the government was not committed to peace. He described the ongoing conference as a "Jamboree" where there will be a display of power, control and luxury by government officials.

Several Liberians in and out of the country have predicted that the ongoing Reconciliation conference organized by the government to discuss the problems (which are said to be created by the government) of democracy and governance, information, education, and communication as well as national security at both the state and individual level among others.

"Our children and mothers are rape everyday, our families are arbitrarily detained and brutalized just as Journalist Hassan Bility and others, we are denied basic education, health services among others by government and its security officers. The government causes these problems because it strives on crisis," a source from Monrovia said.

Meanwhile, several persons from outside Liberia invited to attend the conference believe the conference will not be a success.

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