US Urges Liberia to Stop "or face the consequences"

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, GA

March 28, 2002

In a very strongly worded press release issued in Freetown on Wednesday, March 27, 2002 and reported by the Pan African News Agency, (PANA) the American government called on the Liberian government of Charles Taylor to "expel former commanders and other members of Sierra Leone's rebel Revolutionary United Front, (RUF)."

In the release, the Bush Administration "cautioned President Charles Taylor's government to cease all financial and military support for the RUF and stop all direct or indirect import of Sierra Leone rough diamonds, or face the consequences."

This new warning comes barely a month after another strong statement was issued by Ambassador Bismarck Myrick, US Ambassador to Liberia, calling on the government to institute measures that would allow all Liberians to enjoy freedom and security in their country after more than a decade of war and devastation. "To help prevent further fighting and suffering by the Liberian people, the United States challenges President Taylor to establish the conditions necessary for peaceful political competition and change to occur", the ambassador stated.

In the past few months, there have been reports of Sierra Leone former combatants crossing into Liberia with their arms and sometimes causing trouble in the border area with Sierra Leone that were later blamed on the Liberian armed dissident group, LURD. Some of these fighters are said to have joined Taylor’s ATU and are now roaming Lofa and Nimba counties.

Meanwhile, in the past few days, a new group from Sierra Leone calling itself People’s Democratic League has been issuing press releases purportedly from Danane, once a base for the NPFL/RUF in the 1990s. In its most recent publication, the group, which claims to have been formed in Libya in 1991 says that it is “in the process of recruiting, conscientising ideologising and training former RUF and KAMAJOR fighters in Sierra Leone and other African volunteers in and outside the continent... to cleanse the length and breadth of Sierra Leone of all immoralities and under-development.” The PDL says it has a “liberation army” of about 2,800 fighters.

It has now become very clear to those involved in the peace-building efforts in Sierra Leone that stability will only return to the sub-region if and when there is a total and verifiable disengagement of the Liberian government from Sierra Leone. The American government concludes the warning to Charles Taylor by saying that “peace will return to West Africa only when the Liberian government ceases its destabilizing activities.”

The issue now is whether Taylor would heed to this warning coming from Washington, the 3rd during the past three months, or continue to behave as if Liberia were an island by itself owned by one man and his cronies.

Efforts by the international community to put pressure on the Taylor government need to be seconded by Liberians themselves. This is why it is important that opposition leaders who are in exile and interested in contesting elections in 2003 must work together to form a common front. Agreeing to field one candidate and adopting one political agenda is just one aspect of the solution. The first and most important step to be taken in the wake of the Abuja meeting and in prelude to whatever conference is being organized in July is to have a real presence in Monrovia.

If opposition leaders were to go to Monrovia as a group and commit themselves to restore peace and democracy, they would give confidence to the people of Liberia and energize all those fighting in their corner, be they lawyers, writers, journalists, unions and students. There has to be an end to the exile of Liberian politicians whenever things get rough. The absence of a structured middle class has a lot to do with our problems. Again, our ability to move to the US, adapt American lifestyle and get decent jobs is a cursed blessing. We must reverse the tide and it has to begin with those seeking leadership from our people.

Granted, the police might arrest a few people now and then to intimidate them as they did with Nigba Wiaplah, the Acting National Chairman of the New Deal, but it would never go as far as arresting Kromah, Sawyer, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Brumskine, Moniba all at the same time or even try to intimidate them if they are seen working on a common agenda.

It would be unfair to expect Liberian voters to elect somebody who flies into the country to run a three-month campaign and pack-up as soon as the results are released. Those who are aspiring to leadership must show to the people on the ground that they really mean business, that they are ready to take risks and that they have the courage to fight for their convictions.

In the same spirit, LURD has to come forth with their agenda for peace and join other political leaders. So far, their fight has only benefited Taylor and his militia in Lofa. As long as they don’t show to the people of Liberia that they are ready to work with others in search of peace, they would lack the one thing that makes any struggle viable: political relevance.

There is so much the international community can do. The US can condemn and the UN can impose sanctions but it rests with Liberians to work together and chart a new course.

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