"Volunteer" Army or Forced Recruitment?
May 11, 2001
Appealing to nationalist sentiments on April 8, 2001, President Taylor issued a call to help beef up the sagging Liberian army, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), which has been involved in a long-running battle with dissidents in Northern Liberia, Lofa County. Launching his campaign, Taylor said he wanted to raise a 15,000-man force of mostly volunteers who were prepared to defend their country against enemies. Observers believe that the Liberia ruler was referring to neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.
It was expected that the pool of volunteers would have come mostly from the ranks of former fighters or ex-combatants of the erstwhile National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), Taylor's rebel movement and other warring factions involved in the seven-year civil war. But three years into post-war Liberia, many of the ex-combatants have transition into civilian life and are reported to be assigned to various government ministries and agencies as an extension of the national security apparatus. These former combatants are often used to harass political opponents and critics of government. With a newfound life, the thirst for war has dissipated amongst many.
While government has tried to downplay the escalating nature of the war, there are reports of high casualties on both sides. In a report obtained by the BBC - based on independent medical sources, it is reported that "hundreds of Liberian government soldiers have been wounded" at the warfront.
A renowned Liberian physician, Dr. Walter Gwenigali, has been quoted as saying that: "From the story I hear about the different concentration in the different hospitals it has to be in the hundreds. But I cannot give you any specific figure but I'm sure it's in the hundreds."
With a battered army and low morale, declining in the strength of numbers, there are reports that the government has begun to forcibly conscript young males into the army and sending them to the war front.
Speaking anonymously to this magazine, a weeping Liberian grandmother said of the war, "as for the security situation, it is terrible. By 10:00 p.m. checkpoints are mounted all over in Monrovia and these are the scenes of harassment and intimidation. Most of the young men that are arrested for nothing, are taken for about two-week military training and sent to the frontline in Lofa."
Meanwhile, the Liberian government claims that it has recaptured Kolahun. Recent reports from government sources in Liberia indicate that the government forces have made significant gains. There is no independent confirmation of the government claims since it has banned independent coverage of the Lofa war. The government reported last week that they had recaptured Foya, but it is said that dissidents have regained control of Foya.
Liberia has accused Guinea and Britain of training and arming the Liberian dissidents. President Taylor recently stated, "We know that the British have practically recolonized Sierra Leone, so little countries have to be very careful The powerful British machinery is against Liberia." Britain and Guinea have both denied the allegations.
In another development, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is reported to be disputing "the U.N. allegations that Liberia has not fulfilled its [UN] requirements thus attracted the sanctions". A Western diplomat close to Monrovia lamented, "this is terrible for the West African sub-region and Africa as a whole. Why will the West African countries that are to monitor the U.N. sanctions now dispute UN findings that led to the imposition of sanctions on Liberia. This means that they are readying their efforts to burst the UN sanctions. And it will be a difficult task for them to persuade the same UN to provide funding for ECOWAS force to be deployed along the Liberia- Guinea border."