In the words of Joe Wylie and Charles Taylor...

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

February 1, 2002

There is a great deal of military and political movement going on in Liberia now, be it in Monrovia or in our various refugee camps in Africa and in the US, and of course around Sawmill area where there are claims and counterclaims about fighting between government forces and the LURD.

"Beware of the bearded friends" - Courtesy of Marabout
Burkina Faso

I received an e-mail from Monrovia that said that LURD may be unwillingly doing Mr. Taylor's job for him. According to the friend, two people who arrived in Monrovia from Sawmill said that ATU had staged the whole thing and was trying to get the American delegation currently in Monrovia to sympathize with the government. They said that the ATU elements around their camp started to fire gunshots in the air, claiming that they were under attack by the dissidents. The ATU soldiers then ordered people to leave without their belongings and head towards Monrovia. When they reached Tubmanburg, the people in that city just left their homes and followed the crowd. The government forces then went on a looting spree, taking everything the people left behind them. They claimed that they had just received fresh supplies from humanitarian agencies. My friend went further and said that many in Monrovia suspect Charles Bennie's propensity to credit everything to LURD could be playing in Taylor's interest and wondered who he really worked for. My source gave as an example the fact that Bennie gave credit to LURD for the deaths of Francois Massaquoi and Emmett Ross when in fact it is believed that government forces killed both men...

After reading the e-mail, I called Joe Wylie yesterday and asked him some very specific questions on those issues. Here is what he said, almost verbatim:

"Charles Bennie is not our spokesman and has never been. The only person allowed to talk on behalf of LURD is Mr. Hinson. Bennie knows a couple of people around here but he is not our spokesperson." I then asked Joe why they did not disclaim some of the things he said. "We have a problem of coordination and communication and to some, certain things made sense so we let them stand."

I asked Joe Wylie about the late Minister Francois Massaquoi and he said: "No, we did not kill that man. How could we have shot him in the helicopter and there was not even a scratch neither on the helicopter nor on anyone else around him? Our people were never around that area at that time. This should remind people of how Doe killed Flammzamaton."

About Deputy National Security Minister Emmet Ross, Joe Wylie again said that although they had engaged government forces at the time, they did not kill him and that the Minister had been executed, just like Francois Massaquoi. Again, I asked him why at the time they didn't deny the claims by Bennie and he responded, " This happened at a time of great confusion here and it was just played down and some people thought it would boost the morals of someof the fighters. But we did not kill him."

Regarding the fight around Sawmill and Tubmanburg this week, he confirmed what my correspondent had said. "We never attacked Sawmill. Our men at the front said they also heard gunshots and later saw some of the displaced people running towards them. We are around Tubmanburg, but there was no fighting between LURD and so-called government forces in or around Sawmill. This is not a strategic area for us. It was all ATU."

I asked Joe Wylie finally if they were looking at the possibility of negotiations. "Yes, we are ready to sit and talk with our fellow Liberians to formulate a future for our country beyond Taylor. We will never talk to him. Our aim is to get him out and we will not stop until we throw him out of the Mansion, dead or alive. This man is nothing but a common criminal and there is no need to talk to him. Those who believe he would allow free and fair elections must be dreaming. We are not interested in power-sharing or the presidency. But we are ready to talk to other Liberians..."

Therefore, it appears from the e-mail sent me and from Joe Wylie's statement that the mass movement towards Monrovia, the 100,000 or so people displaced from Sawmill and Tubmanburg were being pushed by ATU. This happens at the time when Taylor is calling for lifting of the arms embargo and crying for an end to the war in Lofa. It also happens with the background of the visit of an American delegation presently In Monrovia and comprising the National democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, the International Foundation of Electoral Systems and the Carter Center. The logic of creating chaos is in line with what the NPFL did at Carter Camp in June 1992, when faced with advancing ULIMO forces and an international community getting tired of its gimmicks, the NPFL massacred some 600 people. The difference now is that the massacre did not take place as some people had predicted. In the meantime, Taylor does not seem at all interested in having a dialogue with Guinea, because the war in Lofa can be used as an excuse for so many things. Taylor may be accusing Conte of the same thing he is doing.

In response to Taylor's accusations that the Guinean president needed the war to stay in power, the government of President Conteh responded in an editorial on the national radio and television station (RTG, January 31, 2002) that "the only person responsible for the suffering of the Liberians is none other than the master con artist of Monrovia, who has learned nothing, retained nothing in words or deeds, except the sounds of gunfire and the taste of blood."

So goes the peace process of the Mano River Union.

Another year has just ended and the usual presidential speech was made to tell us where the country stands and where it is headed. Like many, I read the President's speech and took note of the issues that concern all of us. Liberia is yearning for peace and it sounded as if the President was going in that direction but again, the credibility issue arises whenever one has to deal Mr. Taylor. A man who does not respect the given word is hard to trust. A man who does not respect human life is a scary person to deal with. A leader who does not distinguish between his personal sense of satisfaction and the national good cannot be respected nor taken seriously.

The president is bent on organizing a national conference of reconciliation but he poses conditions, saying "I, as President of the Republic will preside over..." That means that the conference will be on his terms and under his conditions with his timetable. That is not a reconciliation conference. He is party - and a major party - to the conflict and therefore his presidency of the conference defeats every purpose of the talks. To be able to talk to others and respect them, one has to have the humility of submitting to certain basic rules. Mr. Taylor does not seem capable of doing this therefore attending a reconciliation conference is but to give the President a stamp of approval. Why couldn't the Inter-Religious -people and the Women Initiative preside over these talks? That is, if there will be any talk at all.

On other issues, the President seems to be leaning toward compromises, among others the elections commission, the short wave issue for Radio Veritas and the re-opening of Star Radio. These are not to be looked at as gift to the people, these are rights that have been violated. These must however be implemented long before the elections.

The issue of security is still paramount and the President never addressed this. In recent days, there have been talks ATU and AFL harassing people in the countryside. They not only go on looting sprees, but also force villagers to transport the looted goods for them at gunpoint. As long as the security forces have not been restructured according to the Abuja Accord, there will be no security in Liberia. The thugs of the NPFL can wear any kind of uniform but they will still be what they are: a private militia that killed more than 250,000 people, burned down the country and owe allegiance to none but their "pappy." Under these conditions, any elections would be rigged long before it started.

A note about sensitivity, while 100,000 people running in panic towards the capital and rebels are supposed to be fighting a few dozen miles, isn't surprising that the President would go ahead with grandiose festivities to celebrate his birthday? Was his birthday written in stones that it could not be postponed? Some one is not telling us the truth.

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