Leading US Lawmaker Acuses the Taylor Regime of Abusing Liberians

(Opening Statement Made by Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) House Subcommittee - International Relations - at the hearing on Ivory Coast)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 13, 2003

"Prospects for Peace in Ivory Coast"

"We convene today, unfortunately, to look at another African crisis: the unraveling of Ivory Coast. Once a pillar of political stability in West Africa, Ivory Coast has now proven vulnerable, falling prey to the type of war that devastated Sierra Leone. The strife in Ivory Coast, should it continue, has the potential to ensnare other countries of the region in a state of perpetual armed conflict, lawlessness, and human misery that neighboring Liberia has long suffered. Ivory Coast is a disaster in the making.

"We all hope the recently signed Marcoussis Agreement is the beginning of this troubling conflict's end. A few caveats, however, need to be raised.

"It is hard for me to see how this French-backed peace plan is not a reward to rebels who fought their way to the negotiating table, and if the plan is followed, into legitimate positions of political power. This may be a realistic policy given the international community's level of commitment to resolving this conflict, but the price paid, legitimizing the rebels' tactics, is high. It certainly seems to do little to break the cycle of violence in West Africa, and it is not the approach that worked in Sierra Leone. The rebels are threatening to march on Abidjan if their demands on implementing the Agreement, including taking the defense and interior portfolios, are not met. Marcoussis should be supported, within reason.

"This Subcommittee has long condemned President Charles Taylor of Liberia. His regime abuses Liberians. He bears great responsibility for the death and destruction in Sierra Leone, for which I'm hoping he is indicted. For those not aware, that was the conflict in which Taylor-backed rebels cut off the hands and feet of little boys and girls. Taylor's regime today, I am convinced, is backing rebel forces in Ivory Coast. That the peace pact makes no provision for checking the role of foreign governments stoking this conflict - it's treated as a non-issue - is a serious flaw. We deceive ourselves by ignoring the role played by Charles Taylor and Burkina Faso President Blaise Campaore. We need a back-up policy, should the Marcoussis approach fail.

"Building peace in West Africa once war has broken out is not easy. The roots of conflict - political, economic, religious, and ethnic - in Ivory Coast have been growing for some time, and run deep. The Gbagbo government, with its short-sighted politics of exclusion, has been a big part of the problem. A small band of rebels can do great damage to fragile West African institutions. In fact, it took the world's largest peacekeeping operation, backboned by the British military, to give Sierra Leone a shot at peace. We are counting on Ivory Coast being fixed with far less work. I hope it works."