Taylor's Inept Government Under U.S. Microscope

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 5, 2002

After more than four years in power, the government of President Charles Taylor has yet to deliver on its elections promises to the Liberian people to provide basic electricity and safe-drinking water supplies, and improved health, education, and infrastructure developments, and a flourishing participatory democracy. The government has instead succeeded in presiding over a police state marked by high unemployment, severe poverty, impassable roadways, leaking sewer facilities, uncontrollable human rights violations, sporadic guerrilla warfare, a loosed state security apparatus gone amok, and destabilizing misadventures into neighboring states.

But if Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State W. Mark Bellamy's recent testimony before the African Subcommittee of the U.S. House International Relations Committee is any barometer of the U.S. government's concern for the plight of ordinary Liberians and the continuing adventurisms of the Taylor government in exporting civil strife to Liberia's neighbors, then Taylor and his inept government have been operating under the microscope of the U.S. for some time now.

Mr. Bellamy, Acting Assistant US Secretary of State for Africa, told members of the House Subcommittee on Africa May 16 that in spite of the "major milestone" attained on the road to peace in Sierra Leone as a result of the country's May 14 general elections during which the Sierra Leonean people "turned out in impressive numbers to vote peacefully for their next government", it would be a mistake for the U.S. to be "complacent" because "peace in Sierra Leone is not guaranteed" as long as Charles Taylor continues to provide sanctuary to remnants of the Revolutionary United Front ( RUF), the Sierra Leonean rebel group notorious for amputating the arms and legs of its captives during the Sierra Leone civil war.

"Even the best-intentioned government in Sierra Leone will have a difficult time sustaining peace if it remains under threat from its neighbor, Liberia. Liberia's President Charles Taylor helped create the RUF and was an essential external supporter and provider of arms. Unfortunately, Taylor has accepted in Liberia those members of the RUF who refused to disarm, demobilize and participate in the peaceful political life of Sierra Leone. We understand a number of these recalcitrant fighters have been incorporated into Taylor's panoply of security forces. Supported by the Taylor government, they represent a serious potential threat to the nascent peace in Sierra Leone," Mr. Bellamy said.

"We are trying to neutralize this potential threat in two ways. First, we are continuing to try to convince President Taylor to sever all links with the RUF by keeping pressure on his regime through international sanctions aimed at keeping weapons out of Liberia and denying Taylor access to resources he can use to pursue regional destabilization," the Acting Assistant Secretary of State said.

Mr. Bellamy told members of the Subcommittee that in the UN Security Council's Resolution of May 6, renewing for another year a ban on arms imports, diamond exports, and travel by Taylor and his close associates and senior Liberian government officials, the UN also called on President "Taylor to allow for verifiable international monitoring of revenues derived from Liberia's ship registry and timber industry to assure that funds from those sources are used only for legitimate social, humanitarian and development purposes", adding "...We expect Liberia to comply with this request of the international community."

Mr. Bellamy said, "It would be a tragedy if the new peace in Sierra Leone were to be followed by renewed conflict in Liberia, a country that has also suffered horribly from civil conflict during the 1990s. The Taylor government has recently made much of the supposed threat posed by the armed group calling itself Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD)".

Mr. Bellamy seemed also to lend credence to speculations in some political and diplomatic circles that while a rebel group is operating in Liberia, much of the escalations in fighting between government and rebel forces in recent months have been trumped up propaganda by the Taylor government to win international sympathy in lifting the arms embargo on Liberia.. "It is unclear whether the LURD has been involved in even a fraction of the incidents blamed on it and for which it has taken credit. Information we have indicates that most recent "attacks" have actually been perpetrated by Taylor's own unpaid military and para-military forces," Mr. Bellamy said.

"Peace and welfare of the Liberian people is again at risk.. There is a growing population of over 100,000 new internally displaced persons and 20,000 new Liberian refugees as a result of the confusion caused by the "attacks" this year. We are closely monitoring the situation and will do our part to ensure that these innocent people receive needed humanitarian aid from the international community" the U.S. State Department Official said..

"The United States has openly condemned the renewed senseless violence in Liberia and has called on all states in the region to respect the international borders of their neighbors. To forestall further internal violence, it is imperative that the Taylor government create conditions conducive to reestablishing peaceful political competition," Mr. Bellamy said, and added that "To date, Taylor has played a shell game, offering greater political opening but then intimidating anyone who he perceives as too outspoken or too much of a potential threat." Mr. Bellamy cited the May 2002 arrest and beating of Liberian Human Rights Lawyer Tiawan Gongloe as "a prime example of Taylor's repression."

Meanwhile, Mr. Bellamy has told members of the U.S. House International Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Africa that come Elections 2003 in Liberia, "The United States is under no illusion about their ability to reflect the will of the Liberian people as things stand now" because Liberian opposition political parties and groups remain "hopelessly fractured and rightly afraid to campaign."

Mr. Bellamy said Liberian opposition groups needed to return home to Liberia to run their political campaigns, though the United States understands their "hesitancy to do so". He said the Liberian opposition must "get more organized and engaged" because "No opposition leader can be credible to the Liberian people if he or she stays forever safe in exile."

The U.S. State Department Official said Liberia needed the "talents and resources" of Liberians in the Diaspora, including the 18,000 or so Liberians in the United States, if Liberia must achieve peace and prosperity.

Mr. Bellamy told the American legislators that an important component of the U.S. "regional strategy is to expand the horizons of democratic development in the region," and added that. "Toward this end, we are supporting the establishment of multiple independent short and medium wave radio stations in the region."

He said "as a long proponent of the creative use of radio broadcasting in closed societies" there can be no fair political contest where the government monopolizes the dissemination of information" adding "We are also seeking to strengthen civil society groups and are prepared to support electoral processes that we see as having a good chance of being relatively free, fair and inclusive."

Under Taylor, Liberia has won international notoriety as a "pariah state" that serves as a mini-theatre for international arms strugglers, drug dealers, and other shady characters engaged in various criminal enterprises. Thugs rule the streets disguised as special security officers bent on intimidation and extortion of civilian population, and elimination of political opponents and perceived enemies of the government. Civil servants go unpaid for months, and basic health and social services are in disarray or non-existent, while human rights advocates and journalists are assaulted regularly and thrown in and out of jail with impunity. Private newspapers and radio stations are closed down at will and then re-opened whenever news items critical of the government are published or broadcast.

Liberians have been living under a State of Emergency imposed last February by President Taylor as a result of sporadic fightings here and there between the forces of the government and a rebel group named and styled as Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). Human Rights Watch and other international organizations have accused the two warring factions of committing atrocities against civilians. But in spite of the uncertainties of war, peace and reconciliation in Liberia, and the abysmal living conditions of the Liberian people, President Taylor and his NPP government are posturing to be re-election in October 2003 by consolidating power and silencing the opposition. And the opposition is doing itself in by a lack of vision, unity, and a cohesive strategy to meet the challenge before it!

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