Liberia: Holding the Warring Factions Feet to the Fire

By Ezekiel Pajibo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 8, 2003

The armed conflict between the present Government of Liberia (GOL), the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) is hereby ended with immediate effect. Accordingly, all the Parties to the Ceasefire Agreement shall ensure that the ceasefire established at 0001 hours on 18th June 2003, results in the observation of a total and permanent cessation of hostilities forthwith. Article II: Ceasefire, contained in the Liberia Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Accra on August 19, 2003.

The early October incidents in Liberia continue to underscore why Liberians have to keep up the pressure on the warring factions. On October 1, as the ECOWAS forces were being transformed into blue helmet UN Peacekeepers [United Nations Mission in Liberia – UNMIL], remnants of Taylor militia and LURD forces were engaged in street battle in Monrovia. Press reports suggested that at least five persons might have been killed. LURD leader, Sekou Conneh was said to be on his way to meet Moses Blah, the current Liberian President. Following the shoot-out government and LURD traded accusations. Blah said that Conneh was on his way to institute a coup d’etat and Conneh responded by saying that he was ambushed and the government wanted him assassinated. Of course both men cannot be believed. First of all, it was public knowledge that Conneh would be meeting Blah on the day in question. Highly unlikely that Conneh would attempt to pull off a coup d’etat. Certainly, Blah would not want to have shot Conneh while Conneh was on his way to see him. While the incident may have appeared to have the eerie sense of how dictator Samuel K. Doe was captured and subsequently killed in September 1990, this was not the case or anything close to that occasion.

What the October 1, incident clearly demonstrate is the need for Peacekeepers in the country to act more speedily to disarm the various armed militia. Unless the guns are taken away, mischief-makers would not hesitate to take advantage of the situation. On the very night of the shooting, parts of Monrovia were looted, women raped and properties destroyed. The air of impunity in Liberia is thick. That is why U.N. Special Envoy, Jacques Klein statement that those responsible will be brought to justice must be embraced and follow-up. The perpetrators need to be brought to justice and swiftly. This way, those who are armed and want to engage in criminality will know that they will get their comeuppance.

Another press report stated that LURD forces based in Gbarnga were en route to Nimba County and thus far more than 60 Liberians have lost their lives. The source of the story is the Liberian government and it has not yet been verified. In any case, this additional event, if true, further demonstrates the need to speedily implement the Cease-fire agreement and hold its violators accountable. But this cannot happen with only 3,500 troops on the ground. Liberians must plead with the international community to act speedily in increasing the number of troops on the ground. Although the UN has promised to reach a full strength of 15,000 troops by March, it is imperative that those countries, which have promised troops and have the capacity to deploy them immediately, be encouraged to do so. The countries including, Russia, Ireland, South Africa, Namibia, can conceivably deploy their troops immediately. Liberians must find the way to impress upon these countries the need to act with speed and urgency.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said on October 1, that the United States has allotted “$26 million in contracted logistics support and equipment to support ECOMIL forces who will make up the first contingent of the new U.N. mission.” The money, or contracts must be tracked and the process to get it to the intended objectives catalysed. African and other developing countries who don’t have the means to deploy their troops should have access to U.S. support including those already on the ground: Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo. Liberia does not have the luxury of time. Instead of wrenching our hands because the Americans have withdrawn their forces, we should take advantage of those who want to help and have the means to make that happen. Liberia must actively engage the international community and remind it of its obligation to assist the Liberian people establish a durable and just peace.

Post Script: In my last article: “Don’t Let the Thugs Scare You” published on The Perspective Website, a Mr. Vabolee Kamara was mentioned as having written an email to me. Mr. Kamara has apologised to me and I have accepted his apology. I want to thank the readers of The Perspective for making known their disapproval of such behaviour. I have always had confidence in the decency of Liberians.

About the Author: Ezekiel Pajibo, a Liberian now lives and works in Harare, Zimbabwe.