Liberia: Plots, Denials and Just Punishment for a Pariah State

Liberia's continued denial of participation in the ongoing slaughters and plunder in Sierra Leone indicates the level of insensitivity, cruelty and single-minded determination of President Charles Taylor to continue spreading the seeds of destabilization within a region already in turmoil since he turned Liberia into an incubator of terror and a base for refugee production.

Although the rest of the world has concluded that Sierra Leone's detained rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, is no longer credible if peace is to be attained, Taylor remains resolute in imposing Sankoh on Sierra Leone to satisfy his own ambitions for wealth through the continued plundering of that country's diamonds. But fortunately, increasing number of humane Americans (and the British) are beginning to see through the fog what lies ahead for West Africa if nothing is done quickly to save it from the tentacles of criminals turned politicians. The indisputable truth is that peace in Sierra Leone will continue to be illusive, expensive, and dangerous without focusing on the Taylor factor. Says the Republican Representative Ed Royce, Chairman, House Sub Committee on Africa:

"Defeating the RUF requires neutralizing Liberia. Liberian President Charles Taylor, who himself fought his way to power and governs through intimidation, has long supported the RUF, supplying it with weapons in exchange for diamonds, despite Liberia itself being under a UN arms embargo. President Taylor should be ostracized, and more. He should be made to realize that the US has the ability and the will to undermine his rule should his support of RUF continue".

Rep. Royce's voice strengthens that of another Republican, Senator Judd Gregg, who previously warned that peace in Sierra Leone is inconceivable as long as Charles Taylor remains untouched, and that the US must do all it can to handle this menace. But despite these international concerns, the thieving and vicious warlord turned President remains steadfast in his backing of the RUF. The Washington Post, in a recent article, revealed that Taylor has dispatched truckloads of fighters, mercenaries, food, and medicine to Sierra Leone to protect his diamond fiefdoms in that country.

"In the past two weeks, Liberian President Charles Taylor has sent several convoys of trucks loaded with weapons, food and medicine across the border to the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in the Kono region of northeastern Sierra Leone...

Taylor has also sponsored military training for several hundred RUF fighters at his own security forces' main camp, they said. Most of the reinforced RUF units are led by Sam Bockarie, a longtime rebel leader better known as Mosquito who is now living in Monrovia under Taylor's protection...

The payment for all this was diamonds that went through Liberia, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast." That basic route still works, intelligence officials said. "Until that iron triangle is broken, there will be turmoil in the region," said one intelligence official. "There is too much history, too much money and too much blood for them to stop now, and they view losing the RUF as the beginning of the end."

Reports by the BBC quoting refugees on how RUF rebels roam freely around Liberia created anger within the feared government, leading to the relocation of thousands of refugees from the border. In a manner characteristic of the minds of people ruling Liberia, the government claimed that the refugees, hungry children, men and women driven from their land and now at the mercy of relief agencies, were engaged in diamond smuggling! To further complete its iron curtain of secrecy in its Sierra Leone operations, the government has restricted areas of operations for non governmental organizations (NGOs), hoping that it can maintain the lid on concealment as its steps up its Sierra Leone plunder and massacres.

Furthermore, in a pathetic attempt to divert attention from his destabilization plots and strategies, Taylor has launched a vain propaganda about an alleged plot by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to destabilize West Africa. During a meeting with a team of ECOWAS's officials in Monrovia, according to the government-controlled news agency, he was "outraged" about what he regards as ECOWAS abnegation, its surrender of power to the West, meaning Washington and London. The objective in this all-familiar scheme is to convince wishy-washy West African leaders about the alleged Western threat to their authority.

But more than that, the warlord hopes to awaken the anti-Western venom in Libya's Gadaffi for Tripoli's transfer of more arms, more money to maintain Sierra Leone as a second base for regional destabilization. But the driving force in all this is his mortal fear that a militarily strong, united Sierra Leone capable of defending itself and its diamonds will elude him. His paranoia over a stable Sierra Leone prepared to resist his schemes of destabilization is simply too overwhelming. Thus from 1999, he has continued to oppose British training and arming of the Sierra Leone Army. His "CIA plot," which he says was hatched out with the participation of NGOs, is geared at convincing West African leaders to resist any other solution but the Lome Agreement which gives him unlimited time to plunder the diamonds. He has concluded, and rightly so, that without Western presence and pressure in the region, the terrain is all his, under the deception of "African solution to African problems" since he is the "African" and his "solutions" (final installation of the RUF as leaders) must be imposed. This strategy was successfully employed in Liberia where he placed the Nigerians against the Americans when it suited his objectives. In the end, after executing thousands of Nigerians (and other Africans), sending hundreds body bags to Lagos, his friend, President Obansanjo, led an array the generals who fought the warlord to receive his honors in a classic demonstration of "African solutions to African problems."

The simple fact is that without international intervention, Sierra Leone will follow the Liberian paradigm. "We will talk, and talk, talk, and talk about the talks," Taylor said at the beginning of the Liberian war, indicating his determination to prolong the war as long as he was not president. Thus it took more than 12 peace agreements, infinite negotiations to arrive at an "African Solution" in Liberia. It may take more agreements, more talks to yield to Taylor's recent demand that the "Liberian Solution" (installing the best, feared killer as president) be applied in Sierra Leone as he indicated to his cheering cabinet members recently when he insisted that surrendering one's arms to someone only to be shot in the back is not an option in Sierra Leone. The RUF will therefore keep their arms and shoot others in the back.

Hence, we will continue to hear endless calls from Liberia for a negotiated settlement. As ceasefires followed by violations intensify, Taylor will concentrate on mopping out his destabilization strategies - more amputations, more looting, more displacement, and more refugees. More talks, more ceasefires, more peace agreements will then lead to inertia within Sierra Leone and in the international community. In the end, the resolve of even the most determined will be broken, and the logic of a President Foday Sankoh (or anyone of his fellow butchers selected by Taylor) will then become too apparent to reject. It worked in Liberia. Why not in Sierra Leone? As The Washington Post says, there is "too much money..." to allow RUF defeat.

In "ending" the Liberian horrors, it was understandable that the Nigerians, the Ivorians and the Burkinabes could not see that once Taylor was ordained "President" by Abacha through Gadaffi's intervention, he was convinced that Sierra Leone was his, just as he was convinced that Liberia would be his because of the open corridor for operations offered to him by the Ivorians, Burkina Faso's continued supply of arms and mercenaries, and Libya's determination to humiliate Washington in its own backyard. What is not understood is that other West Africans, such as the Guineans, could not see this executioner's knife hanging over them. But in all fairness, West Africans were not the only actors in allowing this fanatical crusade of horror to succeed. With intense support from the Democrats like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Donald Payne, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Taylor cleverly achieved his objective. Now, he believes this strategy can be repeated in Sierra Leone, and Rev. Jackson's comparison of Sankoh with South Africa's Nelson Mandela indicates that the cast is back at work.

But steadily, even these actors who propagated the deceit that Liberia and West Africa would see a resurgence of security and therefore prosperity once a ruthless warlord was appeased with the presidency must now bow their heads in shame, that is if they have any integrity left. Black American leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Donald Payne, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, among scores of American liberals who saw a new dawn for Liberia and Africa because a suave thief and butcher shot his way to power in a process called elections, would do well to admit their own opportunism and bigotry.

The reality that Liberia has become the "epicenter of crimes" that could turn West Africa into a Mafia fiefdom is not lost on more honorable individuals and institutions. Hence, the European Union, Liberia's biggest donor, under British pressure to distance itself from this pariah state, has now suspended $58 million worth of aid to Liberia. For a group now providing basics like safe drinking water, Liberians must gear themselves for more to come under their "democratically elected leader," a prison escapee now siphoning half of Sierra Leone's diamonds by backing that country's ruthless rebels. We have no choice but to applaud the EU decision. However, it is only prudent that this just punishment be extended to Blaise Compaori's Burkina Faso as well. This impoverished state, more than any other country in West Africa, has been pivotal in the ongoing horrors. It was Burkina Faso, along with Cote d'Ivoire, that provided logistic sanctuary for Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia, the godfather of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). It was Burkina Faso that provided arms and mercenaries during the 1999 RUF offensive that left about 6000 persons dead in Freetown alone. Despite its denials, The Washington Post reveals that Compaore recently hosted RUF generals to mop out their war strategy. During the 1999 RUF offensive, the Nigerian commanding ECOMOG forces, Gen. Timothy Shlepidi, warned that as long as Taylor and Compaori remain untouched in West Africa, achieving peace would be impossible. Unfortunately leaders like Obasanjo may have other thoughts.

Without the backing of Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia's flames of destruction, now spreading in Sierra Leone (and perhaps soon to Guinea) would not have been ignited. Therefore, to leave this rogue state, now a big beneficiary of European aid while the poor in Liberia are justly punished because they have opted to elect and install a criminal as president is a bit unjust. Applying the similar punishment to Burkina Faso will send strong signals to gangsters like Taylor and Compaori that the world can no longer accept their criminal schemes perfected in the name of politics.

But it is the effrontery of Charles Taylor's disciples, many of them cronies benefiting from Sierra Leone's criminal diamond transactions, in denying what is now a globally accepted fact that baffles the mind. Liberia's defense minister is warning traumatized Sierra Leoneans who correctly tie their troubles to Taylor's Liberia to maintain their silence.

"Do not threaten this country with war, especially one that you cannot win Stop blaming your war on Liberia We have now reached the point where we can no longer allow the Liberian nation to be scapegoated," Daniel Chea, an NPFL rebel commander now minister of defense, said.
Chea repeated what Taylor has been claiming, that former Liberian rebels, many of them disaffected fighters from Taylor's NPFL lacking benefits at home, were fighting in Sierra Leone alongside the Kamajors, the loyalist traditional hunters' militia led by Hinga Norman.

However, Liberia's denials continue to be contradicted by a series of reports. BBC journalist Mike Donkin, in Monrovia recently, said, he "found evidence of that (RUF rebels roaming around Liberia freely) in a camp for 15,000 refugees from Sierra Leone just inside the Liberian border. Families told me fearfully that RUF men roamed everywhere". He quoted Sierra Leoneans who told him:

"They just live in the camps with us, just going about their business, normal business," a refugee said. "But we know some of them. That's how we know they are here."

"I was somehow afraid when I saw them because I know what they have done to us," said another resident of the camp.

Furthermore, the hair dresser and professional disco dancer turned RUF main commander Sam Bockarie, told the Washington Post recently that he was training 2000 rebels for Sierra Leone at Taylor's notorious Gbartala base. Bockarie, who now heads Taylor's Anti-Terrorist Unit, said he was completing a document for Taylor's signature. Yet, the denials, along with threats of war flare.

Observers believe Liberia's accusations and preparations for war are a pretext for more infiltration of mercenaries to beef-up their RUF allies. Taylor recently offered 10 per cent of about 3000 peacekeeping troops pledged by ECOWAS, an offer ridiculed by the Sierra Leoneans. In 1999, it was the RUF that crossed into Liberia to defend Taylor against dissidents. "There are already hundreds of NPFL fighters infiltrated into Sierra Leone via Kailahun [an RUF stronghold]. They [the Liberian Government] are afraid that the war will enter Liberia and many of their boys, with no pay, are less willing to fight the way they did from 1990 to 1997 when they expected huge benefits. This is why more mercenaries are being recruited", said a confidential source in Monrovia via telephone. Mr. Chea also repeated Taylor's warning against the training of the Sierra Leone Army, demanding that British arms geared for the Sierra Leone Army be turned over to the United Nations, although the Sierra Leone authorities have announced distributing 10,000 rifles and ammunition to pro-Government sources.

Challenges confronting Liberians in view of the entrenched criminalization of the country are monumental. Unfortunately, dreams of democratization are baseless under the prevailing political culture, which allows execution of opponents and a clampdown on basic freedoms such as the freedom of the press. To believe that a thieving and criminal warlord can be transformed into a democratizing agent is to negate the extent of the problem Liberia now faces. Those who argue that suspension of aid may affect the poor may have some reasons, but only when people are forced to see the evils in a political system can they collectively thrive for change. As long as the EU provides water while Taylor buys more Rolls Royce; as long as UN agencies provide food; as long aid agencies continue to repair schools and clinics, etc., Liberians will continue to see evil as salvation. This is why we must thank the EU for its bold step and request that similar step be taken against Burkina Faso. This is why other donors must insist on democratization as precondition for aid. And since these steps are impossible under a well-known and entrenched criminal, this is why Liberians must collectively pursue better options for democratic change.

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