The Dog-Fight in Lofa Continues

The Perspective

November 30, 2001

There are reports of renewed fighting in Northwestern Liberia. This new wave of fighting comes after almost three months of calm in the long-running battle between dissidents of the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the forces of the government of Liberia.

According to news reports, the Liberian dissidents attacked two northwestern towns – Belle Baloma and Belle Fassama – bordering war-ravaged Lofa County. These towns are part of the recently established Gbarpolu County, which is one of the fifteen political subdivisions in Liberia.

"Aid agencies quoting fleeing civilians arriving in Bopolu, the headquarters of Gbarpolu County, said the attack forced a polio vaccination team which was in the area for the second national polio immunisation day, to withdraw to the provincial capital," Agence France-Presse reported.

Amid the outbreak of this new round of war, several humanitarian organizations such as British Save the Children Fund, World Vision, Lutheran World Service, and a number of other non-government organizations have disengaged from assisting the victims of the war in Lofa, and are said to have advised their personnel to leave the area.

In what has now characterized this war that has come to be referred to as a "strange war" is the frequent trade in claims and counterclaims between the dissidents and the government as to who is winning or prevailing in the war. Government’s "gag rule" censoring reporting of the war and the fact that the dissidents have not allowed journalists into territories supposedly under LURD’s control have made it difficult to make any independent verification of claims coming from both sides.

Displaying bravado and tough talk, the Liberian government for its part, has claimed that the rebels are being flushed out of areas of Lofa they once controlled.

"A senior Liberian army officer recently claimed a government offensive against rebels in Lofa County was gaining ground, with the rebels expected to be routed by the 'Christmas season.'"

Maj. - Gen. George Dwanna, deputy chief of staff of the marines division of the Liberian army, recently said that Zorzor and Voinjama were cleared of dissidents two months ago.

"We are currently engaged in cutting off supply routes of the dissidents before launching the final assault on them… We will be in Kolahun (the last stronghold of the dissidents) before the Christmas season," Mr. Dwanna said.

But in a press statement issued yesterday by LURD, the dissidents countered that it has three counties under its control.

"The Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy - LURD -has taken major regions in Liberia during the last couple of days - thereby having under its control Lofa, Cape Mount and the mineral rich Gbapolu counties. Fassama, Bella Yella and Bopolu are key city-towns now inhabited by civilians under the protection of LURD's civil administration. At the moment, LURD's forces are seventy-two (72) miles from the capital Monrovia, and twenty-five (25) miles from Tubmanburg City, the capital of Bomi County close to Monrovia. LURD kindly urge all diplomatic missions and relief organisations in the country to be on the alert, or vacate to avoid being trapped in inconvenient predicament as the strategies now employed are to hit Monrovia in the shortest time."

The statement continued, "LURD has blocked all major road links between the RUF terrorist machine in Sierra Leone and the Taylor's terrorist leadership in Monrovia."

While it is difficult to pinpoint what is actually unfolding on the military level, it is clear that there is a parallel war being waged at the public relations level. Recently, for example, President Taylor in an interview with a French news agency blamed the war in Lofa County as one of the factors – the other being the withholding of aid by the international community – responsible for the dismal performance of his regime. In effect, he argued that much of the country’s development resources have been diverted to contain the rebel advances in Lofa.

Other than apportioning blame on everyone but itself, the Taylor regime has not provided any detailed information on war casualties, number of people displaced, etc. The war of words however continues, while the people of Lofa continue to die in a war that is yet to gain international attention. • e-mail:

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