T.Q. Harris - LURD Negotiator or Hoax?
By George Nubo & Theodore Hodge
T. Q. Harris
After elaborating its [LURD's] origin, purpose and philosophy, the press release continued: "LURD has taken its first step toward peace by calling upon Mr. T.Q. Harris, an untainted neutral politician, to serve as its Principal Representative in negotiating an immediate ceasefire and the formation of a Unity Government. We are pleased Mr. Harris has responded favorably to our appeal..."
In the final paragraph, the announcement continued: "We, therefore, call upon the International Contact Group on Liberia, the Economic Community of West African States, United Nations, European Union, African Union, fellow Liberians, and friends of Liberia to give Mr. Harris your fullest cooperation. He is prepared to articulate LURD's position as it relates to ending hostilities in Liberia."
Upon receiving and reading this announcement, bells of alarm went off immediately. In our continuous struggle to tell the Liberian story and highlight the principal players and their roles, a new puzzle had been thrown into the mix. Quite a few relevant questions immediately sprang to mind.
A few of the questions, our inquiring minds pondered, for example, were: Why did this communiqué come from Mr. Harris' office, instead of from the organization's headquarters? Why was it signed by the "Military Chief of Staff" instead of the Chairman, Mr. Sekou Damante Conneh? Why did LURD choose to appoint an outsider to such a high-profiled position? After all, doesn't LURD have a number of civilian politicians and opinion leaders who are sympathizers, members and supporters of this outfit? Or, has Mr. T.Q. Harris, the so-called "untainted and neutral politician" been a member of LURD all along?
The Perspective Magazine, in an attempt to get to the bottom of this unfolding story decided to arrange an interview with Mr. Harris. To our amazement and pleasant surprise, Mr. Harris was quite agreeable and cooperative. A time for the interview was set. But before the interview and press time, some of our suspicions were being openly aired by others apparently quite as puzzled as we were.
On May 20th, Liberian Orbit posted a flash-piece under the title "T.Q. Harris Does Not Represent Us". The story quoted an unpublished statement emanating from the rebel headquarters denying that it had given Mr. Harris any authority to represent its interests. It called the statement sent by Mr. Harris' office "a reflection of his own ambition".
Again, based on the unpublished press release purportedly issued by LURD, the Liberian Orbit story discredited and tanited the "untainted" character of Mr. Harris. It quoted the press release as saying: "It is however, not the right of individuals to pose themselves as representatives of others when they have not been given such authority".
The following day, May 21st, a press release was sent purportedly from the rebel offices in Voijama, Lofa County. It, in no uncertain terms, disclaimed the representations made by the document from Mr. Harris. In part, this is what it said:
"We wish to, at this point in time, inform the rationally thinking people of Liberia (both at home and abroad) that at no time has Mr. T.Q. Harris been appointed as "LURD's Principal Representative" in the negotiation of peace between Charles Taylor and us. The so-called appointment of T.Q. Harris under the purported signature of former Chief of Staff/LURD, Gen. Prince B. Seo was done through sheer impersonation, fraudulence and machinated chicanery. Gen Prince B. Seo was dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces of LURD almost a year ago... for acts incompatible with the position..."
On Tuesday evening, May 20th, Mr. George Nubo, the Managing Editor of The Perspective (TP) and Theodore Hodge, the magazine's Mid West Bureau Chief hooked up via telephone to conduct an interview with Mr. T.Q. Harris regarding the issues under discussion. Below are excerpts and commentaries.
The Perspective: Let's begin with the new release that was issued and signed by General Prince Seo. Who is Prince Seo and have you had any previous relations with him prior to this appointment?
Mr. Harris: I was introduced to Mr. Seo as the Chief of Staff of the LURD Forces, and I have never met him in person. I heard the name before... I read about him... and that's the extent of our relationship. But since we've been introduced, we've been in contact.
The Perspective: The press release that was sent to the media seems to have originated from you. Do you have the original release that came from General Seo's office?
Mr. Harris: Yes, we have the document... It was not an instantaneous development here... That document is a combination of at least four months of conversations since I was originally contacted by the military men...
The Perspective: In your dealing with them within the last four months, as you have indicated, are there any other officials that you've dealt with other than Gen. Seo? Have you, for example, dealt with the Chairman, Mr. Sekou Damate Konneh?
Mr. Harris: I have spoken to Mr. Konneh in the last two years, probably two times, where he called me. I think I placed a couple of calls to him but they were all general conversations, the results of development in the news media...
The Perspective: Mr. Harris, are you a member of LURD?
Mr. Harris: No, I am not a member or official nor have I ever been a member or official of LURD.
The Perspective: How can you represent an organization that you are not a member of?
Mr. Harris: Aha, but first let me clarify something because I see a lot of imprints that misunderstood the statement. I do not represent LURD. The statement that carried my name said it was from the LURD Military High Command. Now, if that is LURD, then I will accept your premise that I do represent LURD. But to the best of my knowledge, I was told and from my investigation, I was dealing with strictly men in arms, men and women carrying arms. They called themselves the "Military High Command".
The Perspective: But they are members of LURD, correct?
Mr. Harris: I will assume that, but I am just saying my relationship with them, they came to me as the "Military High Command". I have never stepped up to say I represent LURD and I do not represent them here if you follow the statement slowly...
The Perspective: But what is the difference between the "High Command" and LURD?
Mr. Harris: I don't know, because I don't know what LURD is. I don't know the structure. I am not part of them, and I couldn't tell you the difference.
The Perspective: Did you ask the people, [the Military High Command] who appointed you?
Mr. Harris: No. That is not the purview of my discretion... I don't know what they have been doing because it's not my prerogative. I just want to get them to the peace table... That's my primary objective.
The Perspective: Mr. Harris, I'm a bit confused and please forgive me. This press release has ‘LURD' all over it. Did it ever occur to you to wonder if the Military High Command is different from LURD or not the same as LURD, why does the document say ‘LURD' so many times? It gives a brief history of LURD, it says what LURD stands for, and it says specifically that you will be negotiating on behalf of LURD. I don't understand your position that there is a difference between LURD and the Military High Command. I am a bit confused by the difference you are trying to articulate here.
Mr. Harris: Well, maybe the confusion might come from the fact that you know more about this subject, and I may not be responding like you've expected from previous knowledge. I am telling you what I know... I am telling you the extent of my conversation with these people. I was dealing with a group that says it is the Military High Command of LURD... If there is a connection, I don't know...
The Perspective: But Mr. Harris, the statement clearly states: "LURD has taken its first step toward peace by calling upon Mr. T. Q. Harris, an untainted neutral politician, to serve as its Principal Representative in negotiating an immediate ceasefire and the formation of a Unity Government." It did not say "LURD Military High Command".
Mr. Harris: But why don't you contact the people that composed that statement... You have a name; you have the title of the author. Why should I speak on behalf of them?
The Perspective: But this was purportedly sent to you by Prince Seo, and it clearly states your position as Principal Representative of LURD, why are you denying that?
Mr. Harris: No, no, no. I'm not denying anything. You see the problem maybe, Mr. Nubo and Mr. Hodge, you might be bringing in the background a preconceived argument and no objectivity, perhaps. You query me like I'm on a witness stand and you are going into details. If LURD Military Command is LURD, then I'm dealing with LURD. I gave you the names of the people I'm dealing with... If this is LURD, then I'm dealing with LURD.
The Perspective: An article carried by the Liberian Orbit website seems to dispute the authenticity of your claim. As a matter of fact, it broadly dismisses your claim; it says "T.Q. Harris does not represent us", and it reportedly comes from LURD. How do you explain the discrepancies?
Mr. Harris: Well, I cannot explain the discrepancies, but I can tell you this: I have read that report on the Liberian Orbit. I didn't see anybody's name there. I don't know who wrote it; the document I have has a name. I'll really not take much time to prove or disprove a nameless document.
The Perspective: Your document says: "There are no other armed groups operating inside the country. The so-called armed group, MODEL, said to operating inside Liberia does not exist". We just heard of the fighting between government and rebel forces in Harper, Maryland County. Do you have any idea who's fighting there?
Mr. Harris: My response to that, based on information I have and research I've done, I will say it is LURD's forces. I will be happy if there is information to contradict that... Maybe the leader of MODEL will come forward to put it in the proper perspective.
The Perspective: Does this mean that when you go to Ghana you will be speaking on behalf of LURD in Harper, LURD in Ganta, LURD in Voinjama, LURD in Gbarpolou County?
Mr. Harris: First, let me clarify something: I don't think anything was in any of the statements about me going to Ghana... This was not done with any particular place in mind... Wherever I go, if they continue to value my service and my assistance, I will speak to the fact that all armed men in Liberia opposing Charles Taylor are operating under the banner of LURD.
The Perspective: Do you support the action of the armed men and women fighting the Liberian government?
Mr. Harris: The action of LURD in particular, I have mixed feelings about it - but I'll tell you what I support: having been deeply involved in Liberian politics, especially with the current regime, I have come to the conclusion that the regime does not respond to anything but force. And I assure you, if I had the wherewithal and know-how, I don't believe I would be doing what I'm doing today. I believe I would be applying force on that regime...
The Perspective: So in short you support the violent overthrow of the Taylor regime?
Mr. Harris: I support any forces which will remove Charles Taylor from the neck of the Liberian people. I've seen too much suffering. I'm in the middle of this thing. I get calls throughout the night, every penny I have, I try to help somebody... He must be removed.
The Perspective: Since the publication of this appointment letter, we have received a flurry of calls and emails. Some of these people opine that with the talk of establishing an interim government after October, 2003, you are positioning yourself for a position in the interim government - and that such a desire for a position propelled you to establish relationship with LURD. What is your comment?
Mr. Harris: That's a good one... I tell you this - look at the situation very closely: I think you have to agree that I risk more by trying to associate with this organization than I would do if I didn't. If you think about the general sentiment of LURD based on our research on Liberia, I risk more just by even reaching out to say I will help you to get you out of this thing... Analytically, if you look at it, If I want to keep a clean edge, I wouldn't touch this thing because it's a hot potato - LURD killed people...
The Perspective: You have been critical of Liberian warlords, Boley, Johnson, etc. and even Dr. Sawyer. You want for some of these people to face the war crimes tribunal, but you have not spoken out against LURD. Is it because you support the violent overthrow of the Taylor regime or is it because of this relationship?
Mr. Harris: Well that's a very interesting question... because I do support some type of process in Liberia whereby those who wronged the Liberia people will face some form of justice... I don't know [most] of these people on a personal level, I don't interact with them. I have nothing against them personally. But if we're to build a new Liberia, we have to start doing things differently. We have to tell people that when you violate certain laws there is certain process, [there are] certain consequences... But when people are left with no alternative, when the oppressor seems to be incapable of contrition, when they lose their humanity, people will rise up. This is how revolution can come, this how the major conflicts and social breakdown come.
The Perspective: So if there is a war crimes tribunal today we will have people like Boley, Johnson, Kromah, Sawyer, etc. standing in court, but LURD will be left out because its action is justified?
Mr. Harris: I will say no because when it comes to the war crimes court, it's not my opinion who go to court, who they try, who is indicted.
The Perspective: But you have called for war crimes tribunal for other warlords?
Mr. Harris: I called for war crimes tribunal for everyone even if you were a bishop.
The Perspective: Does that include LURD?
Mr. Harris: Everyone who violates the people's rights in a way that it falls under that category of war crimes or crimes against humanity. We should set an example if we really want to build a serious nation.
Mr. Harris: If it is true [that], who ever they are, what ever they are, the leaders of LURD took up arms to fight for justice, and to fight for the Liberian people, I don't think they should have any fear of my position...
Editor's Note: To follow up on Mr. Harris’ advice, we made several attempts to contact this so-called General Prince Seo, who now lives in Sierra Leone. In several attempts through several days, we were unable to talk to him directly. However, we were able to talk with another gentleman named Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln he is a ranking member of LURD, General Chairman on Defense and national Security”.
He told us that Gen. Prince Seo was still a member of LURD but not the Chief of Staff of LURD forces; that Gen Seo had been suspended for some months now. But he assured us that the general did not issue the document under discussion.