More Confusion in Liberia

By Our Monrovia Correspondent

The Perspective

Monrovia, Liberia

February 22, 2002

Just as the tension in Monrovia was said to be relaxed, some of those who are frightened by reports that the war is coming to Monrovia have left the country, BBC Focus on African had interviews with Damante Konneh of LURD and Liberia's Defense Minister Daniel Chea on Tuesday which may have led to more confusion and panic. Damante said that his forces were in the Kakata - Bong Mines area and that LURD has planted 2,000 of its 14,000-man force in Monrovia. Mr. Konneh further said that LURD was going to cut off Monrovia within 24 hours, even though it has been about 72 hours now. Monrovia is still not cut off! Immediately following Mr. Konneh’s statement, Liberia’s Defense Minister Daniel Chea called BBC claiming that he was calling from the same Kakata-Bong Mines area. Coincidence? Defense Minister Daniel Chea said that what Konneh said was a “lie that will disturb the population so that they [LURD forces] will come and loot.” He said LURD forces were not in the Bong Mines - Kakata area. On Wednesday and Thursday, however, over 14000 people trek to Kakata to escape “fighting” in the Bong Mines area. Again, you don’t know who is telling the truth. Did the Defense Minister actually call from Bong Mines? If he was calling from Bong Mines, why he did not admit that there was fighting? Were they both (Mr. Konneh and Minister Chea) not telling the truth? If LURD forces were not in Bong Mines during the late afternoon hours - the time of the interviews, who carried out the shooting in Bong Mines? These are questions people are asking?

Bong Mines is said to be looted by Taylor's security men. Just as usual, LURD announced Tuesday that its forces were in the Bong Mines - Kataka area, the following day, the government security announced that they had recaptured Bong Mines from the dissidents. This was immediately followed by massive looting attributed to the government security. As some people put it, LURD does not have any place to take looted items for sale. Those looted items end up in Monrovia or in some towns on the high way for sale.

A question that comes to mind is this: is it possible for LURD to have been driven by the government security forces from Bong Mines and they (government security) would have the nerve to begin looting immediately without fear that LURD would re-launch an attack? Just as it was correctly stated recently in this newsmagazine, some people in Monrovia conclude that Taylor has a game plan and that the plan is to call the international community attention to Liberia in his bid to have the arms embargo lifted. Many people here agree - saying: “Mr. Taylor is still not satisfied with the arms that he is smuggling into the country. He intends to kill some of his perceived opponents in the name of an attack by LURD in Monrovia.” As one opposition figure put it, “in the LURD - Taylor’s Game, the Liberian People are the ball being played”

LURD’s claims that it has planted 2000 men in Monrovia seems to give more credence to Taylor’s imposition of the state of emergency. It also endangers the lives of progressives, Mandingoes, and opposition leaders.

Additionally, there is no drought of rumors here in Monrovia. Many people here believe that the Klay incident was staged by Mr. Taylor to use as a scapegoat in imposing the state of emergency. Others, however, say that it may have been the work of some of the mercenaries who were sent to Sierra Leone by Mr. Taylor to fight on behalf of the RUF because Taylor has refused to pay them. They conclude that some of those fighters recently broke loose and caused the pandemonium in Klay. There is a common feeling here among Liberians and in diplomatic quarters that LURD has only been giving Taylor ammunition to fight the people of Liberia by claiming responsibility for any game Taylor designs. They opine that LURD is not in the position to take on Taylor militarily.

Meanwhile, the new regulations issued by government reinforce Amnesty’s claims that ATU members are mostly responsible for the atrocities meted against the hapless population here. The government has issued regulations against raping women, harassing people and looting by members of the Liberian security forces. Despite the new regulations, Bong Mines has been looted.

In another development, a Russian plane has crash landed near Roberts International Airfield (RIA) recently. There is growing secrecy and mystery surrounding this plane crash. It is now believed by many here that the plane was bringing in arms. Prior to the Friday incident involving the Russian plane, it is alleged that two other flights safely landed at RIA at night with arms destined for Liberia. A source from the office of the police director said that the police director is in charge of the operation to conceal information from the public regarding the crash.

Taylor flew to RIA via chopper on Friday morning about 9:00 am local time. The scene of the accident was sealed off. The question that is being asked is why did he go to the scene in the first place? Secondly, why were journalists disallowed to go on the spot? It can be recalled that when Joe Tate and company died in a plane crash, Taylor did not go to the scene.

Of the nine crewmen in the plane, it is said that one of them died. There was only one black among them with his nationality unknown. Paul Mulbah remarked among his men that the crewmembers are Russians. He bought shirts, trousers and briefs for all of them. They have now been relocated from the Firestone hospital to OTC clinic in Buchanan. The police director dispatches the police chopper there every day according to my source. However, the source does not know where the plane originated from. Government’s refusal to provide the information makes it to look much more sinister. Some observers link it to sanctions bursting saying: perhaps they are still using the routes that were reported in the UN Security Council report. Over here people are curious to know the countries that are still cooperating with Taylor in contravening the UN arms embargo. Why is Taylor asking for the lifting of the arms embargo? Some believe he wants to purchase fighter planes and some APCS. The feeling here is that these would be used in both pursuing LURD forces and in terrorizing the West African sub-region.

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