Taylor, LURD Spar Over Bong & Cape Mount

By Our Correspondent
Monrovia, Liberia

The Perspective

June 8, 2001

One of the frustrations in making any sense of the long-running war in Lofa County between the dissident forces of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the government of Liberia is the lack of independent press verification of claims and counterclaims that have been made by both sides.

The GOL, for example has erected a Chinese wall to curtail the involvement of both the local press and the international media from reporting on the war. The Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) has issued a flurry of guidelines and policies that are primarily designed to put obstacles in the way of any effort by the press to provide coverage of the Lofa war. Anyone circumventing this is branded as a "dissident collaborator". Based on the new rules, the local press must clear any story about the war with MICAT before having it published, while the international press has to be licensed or accredited by the government before traveling to Liberia to cover the war or any development in the country. The Liberian government contends that the purpose of these new guidelines is to control the bad or negative publicity the country has received in recent times. But one of Liberia's exiled politicians differs with the government: "the fact of the matter is that the so-called bad publicity has been self-inflicted than externally induced."

The politician continued, "What is more, government's control and monopoly of the press has slanted their own claims about their success in containing the dissidents."

Moreover, many think the dissidents' counterclaims appear overblown since they have yet to give the press access to verify claims of territories they have acquired.

But if there is any way of sorting through this morass and making sense of all the claims and counterclaims that have been tossed back and forth by both sides, one has to examine what each side has been saying lately.

On Tuesday, June 5, 2001, President Charles Taylor speaking on a phone-in Talk Show on his private KISS FM Radio, said that government forces had recaptured Voinjama, the provincial capital of Lofa County, from the dissidents. He said that an offensive was launched by government troops on Monday to recapture Foya, another major town located about 31 miles west of Voinjama.

Unprompted, he said that the rebels had advanced as far as Vahun (near the Sierra Leone border), Kungbor in Grand Cape Mount County (south-western Liberia), as well as Gorlu, a few miles north of Gbarnga (Taylor wartime stronghold). Adding further, the president said, "everything will be done to settle Kolahun."

But on countering Taylor's claims, LURD says in a June 7th press release purportedly sent by its spokesperson, William Nhison, that it still has control of the major towns in Lofa, including parts of Grand Cape Mount and Bong Counties.

"LURD has all of its liberated territories under full control and civil administration headed by Commissioners has been put in place provisionally. These include Voinjama, Foya, Zorzor, Vahun and Kolahun districts in Lofa county and Porkpah district
in Grand Cape Mount County. Tactical military mopping up is being carried out in Gbarpolu county previously Bopulu Statutory District about 60 miles from the Liberian Capital Monrovia.

"Strategic towns such as Gbalatuai, Belefurnai, Bonju, Kolita, Bomo, Wensua, Gbonota, Gbansata and Teva are all captured and under the control of LURD'S Forces," the release added.

A former Liberian national security official on condition of anonymity , said "It is hard to believe that LURD has advanced that close to Gbarnga. But Taylor's statement on his radio station confirms that the dissidents are advancing. It is the responsibility of the government to say the truth to the Liberian people so that the hapless civilians will not be caught unaware."

Many observers find no real disagreement between the respective positions of both the government and LURD. A local politician stated, "Each side has disagreed in order to agree. Taylor is clearly not denying LURD's claims that it has control of the major towns in Lofa; Voinjama continues to be the one constant and critical area in dispute. But aside from Lofa, LURD is making claims to additional territories in Bong and Cape Mount Counties, which the government of Liberia has not disputed."

Both sides have, however, been tight-lipped or have downplayed the number of casualties or deaths, which has become one of the mysteries of this war. But soon, and real soon, the real truth of this war will begin to untangle.

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