An Interview with William Hanson, Senior Spokesman of LURD
May 15, 2002
The war between the Taylor regime and the Liberian dissident group known as Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) intensified during recent days. There were attacks in Palala, Gbarnga, Klay, Tubmanberg and Arttington. On Tuesday, May 14, 2002, The Perspective (TP) conducted an interview with Mr. William Hanson, senior spokesman of (LURD), the dissident group that is waging war against Mr. Taylor to oust him from power.. Below is the interview conducted by George H. Nubo and Siahyonkron Nyanseor:
TP: What are the territories you control now?
Mr. William Hanson: We control Northwestern Liberia, and most part of Central Liberia - at the moment we are at the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia.
TP: What towns are under your control?
Mr. William Hanson: We control Klay, for example. We control Tubmanburg. We did some fighting in Arthington, but we have made tactical decision that is aimed at reducing civilian casualties. This is guerrilla tactics. We are trying to see how we can encircle Monrovia. Military diplomacy will not permit me to tell you where we are now.
TP: You control Klay, Tubmanberg, Gbarnga? Is there any other major town that is under your control?
Mr. William Hanson: Yes, [we control] Zeinzu, Palala and all those places.
TP: Who controls Bopolu?
Mr. William Hanson: We control Bopolu. [I am speaking] to you from there.
TP: What about Zorzor?
Mr. William Hanson: Zorzor is under our control. Those are places where we have civil administrations functioning very well. We have civil administrations in all those places.
TP: So, these are not ghost towns that you control?
Mr. William Hanson: They are not ghost towns - we have people there. But it is not the kind of population you would expect to be there [in normal situation].
TP: Why do you think that the civilian population runs away from you into Taylor’s territories instead of coming into your territories?
Mr. William Hanson: They do not run away from us. What they do is [that] they try to escape conflict zones because when ever we make some moves the ruthless ATU comes around and instead of facing us they will revenge or display aggression on the civilians. So, what the civilians do is that since they cannot approach us, they just go to Monrovia where the media organization is - to report how they have been treated by the regime. But when they come to our area, they live peaceful live.
TP: What is LURD’s agenda for Liberia? We have not seen LURD’s agenda. We have written to your office over five months ago requesting LURD’s agenda, but we have not received any response.
Mr. William Hanson: We have an agenda. The agenda we have is that we want to make sure democracy takes root in the country - respect for fundamental human rights also takes serious root. We want to make sure that all sectors of the country become developed in terms of economic empowerment, agricultural activities, infrastructural development, and medical care in all the counties. Basically, the main thing we want to do is to put in place respect for the constitution - where nobody will be above the law. So when people are corrupt, when they steal government’s money, they will be subject to the law - so that nobody will institutionalize banditry in the country… We will have powerful legal system in the country. When we have powerful legal system in the country, the next thing that will happen is that democracy will flow. Respect for fundamental human rights will flow. We do not have the authority to do all these things. To do all these things, we need the collective efforts of all of our countrymen and women. We want all Liberians to come together to form political parties, even including the ruling party. We want to see ourselves as a factor in anything to do with our country.
TP: Why can’t you organize yourselves into a political party to contest the 2003 elections instead of this approach?
Mr. William Hanson: It will never work. In the first place this is matter of survival and self-preservation as a people and as a nation. You are speaking of somebody who has no relation to the international community, who has outlived his usefulness. Realize certain key things: this man was not democratically elected. The so-called elections that we refer to as elections [1997 elections] happened simply because the international community, particularly ECOWAS, felt that since he had the military might, he should be given the opportunity to shape the affairs of the country - With a mandate to restructure the Liberian security forces so that he could provide security for the nation. He reneged on restructuring the security forces.
TP: Recently, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported some of the atrocities LURD has committed against the Liberian people. Can you comment?
Mr. William Hanson: In the first place, we don’t want to say that we are perfect. Our forces do make some mistakes because we are human beings. In a conflict situation, like the one we are involved in, there will always be mistakes. But we are straightforward on civilian protection. I want to say that the reports done by the two institutions were done professionally. We respect those institutions and their reports. But some of the things that were said in the reports were said because the general picture was not understood. Most of the atrocities are not caused by us, they are caused by the other group the ATU group. That should be understood. Most of the atrocities are committed by the Taylor regime, which has the track record of committing mayhem and destruction. They tend to put the atrocities on our organization with the view of gaining public sentiments and international sympathy on their side.
TP: It is said that the begging of the year was a PR disaster for your organization because your organization took credit for Mr. Taylor’s gimmick. Could you comment on that?
Mr. William Hanson: We value the expression of individual’s opinions, because we cherish press freedom and expression of the mind. Those people who say those things, have the right to [do so] that is their opinion. We do not want to say that we had PR setback at the beginning of the year.
TP: Was LURD responsible for the death of Emma Ross? Was LURD responsible for the death of Massaquoi? Was LURD responsible for the previous Klay attack. Sawmill attack?
Mr. William Hanson: The situation that unfolded in Klay is that LURD was responsible in sending its forces to Klay, but the atrocities committed and the general atmosphere created in that area was not by LURD. But we were there and we took charge for some time. On the issue of Massaquoi - Massaquoi was setup by Mr. Taylor to be assassinated. The helicopter came within our terrain, and we did shoot at the helicopter. So we assumed that we hit the helicopter. It may have been possible that our forces led to his death. At the same time, we just want to say that he was setup and he may have been killed by Mr. Taylor before he was even put in the helicopter.
TP: Some say that there were no bullet holes on the helicopter. So are you sure you hit the helicopter?
Mr. William Hanson: The international community and Liberians in general know that this man is a liar. He has lied to people before. He committed massacre in the past and said it was ECOMOG. He killed American Catholic nuns and said that they killed themselves. You know, and I know that Taylor is a liar so why should people continue to believe him.
TP: If you know that Mr. Taylor is a liar, then why take credit for the death of Massaquoi? Why take credit for the death of Emma Ross?
Mr. William Hanson: It is not the matter of taking credit, it is matter of saying that we were in the area when Massaquoi’s helicopter went there. We shot at the helicopter! How he died, we don’t know but we shot at the helicopter. He may have been killed before he was put in the helicopter.
TP: What about Ross?
Mr. William Hanson: Ross went within our terrain and an ambush was setup and he died within the area where the ambush was setup. In a military situation like this, whether it is true or not, so long your people were in the terrain - you will say something. Even if it is not true, some character of truth will be in it.
TP: ECOWAS has hit LURD with a travel ban. Are you stranded in Lofa?
Mr. William Hanson: We are not stranded. In the first place, we are disinterested in traveling to any place. One of the reasons why are engage in the struggle is that we want to remain in our country. There is a deficiency within the ECOWAS Secretariat in terms of conflict resolution. And once the international community continues to make people heads of major strategic [organizations] that are supposed to resolve conflicts, particularly ECOWAS people who do not have the requisite moral value, there will continue to be some problem. It is unsettling that Chambas with all his education is at ECOWAS Secretariat and is being coerced by Mr. Taylor to do things that do not [reflect] his status as ECOWAS Secretary General and even as an educated person.
TP: Are you saying that Chambas is bias because of Taylor’s influence?
Mr. William Hanson: This is not the matter of him being bias, it the matter of him continuing what he started. He was part of the group that selected this fellow to become president of the country despite all his criminality. So, he just wants to continue what he started. And beside that, he has an alliance with certain groups that think what they are doing is the best thing to do within the region.
TP: This war (between LURD and Taylor’s forces) has been going on for at least two years. Are there POWs [prisoners of war] and if so how many?
Mr. William Hanson: At the moment, we do not have any POWs.
TP: Do you kill the enemies who capture?
Mr. William Hanson: No, we do not! They are our brothers. When they surrender to us we educate them politically, de-traumatize those who are traumatized and send them back to the front. And this is one of the main pools where we get our manpower from.
TP: So you turn the POWs into fighters for LURD?
Mr. William Hanson: Yes, an example the deputy chief of mission for the Gbarnga program is one of Taylor’s subjects who have been politically well-cultured.
TP: We recently received an e-mail from LURD stating that we should not give anybody an interview with the exception of you. Is there a power struggle within LURD?
Mr. William Hanson: There is no power struggle. In any institution, there is division of labor with hierarchy. If you are the Managing Editor and another man is the Editor, I think the functions are different… We have one spokesman, but there are others who may speak if they are positioned or recommended by the spokesman to do so. That’s why Joe Wylie, Bennie and others have been speaking because the spokesman, myself, used to recommend them so that we will give this thing a national character to make our people to know that we have people [from various] political sub-divisions of the country.
TP: Joe Wylie once said that LURD’s forces were not in Sawmill when they claimed that they were there. Did he misspeak?
Mr. William Hanson: That’s exactly what I was telling you. Wylie is the senior military advisor and the fact that he accepted to grant you an interview without getting the authorization from the spokesman, who supposed to send out information, he was expressing his opinion.
TP: The general view expressed by most Liberians that they do not want to replace one dictatorship with another. What is your comment on that?
Mr. William Hanson: The first thing as an institution, our focus is not on power. I just want to make that very clear. As a national spokesman, and one of the founding members of this movement, I am not interested in any state power. I am not interested in being in government or working for government. We are doing this thing as a matter of personal commitment to make sure that we have liberation of our country and people so that they will be able to enjoy economic development. There may be some people within the LURD who in their capacity as Liberians and educated people may be interested into taking government jobs as a matter of some constitution rights. So, I am not ruling that out. But what I want to say is that we as an institution have a focus. Our focus is to make sure that our country becomes part of the comity of nations in terms of development. So with that in mind, we will want to play a little role in any political arrangement that will replace Mr. Taylor. The only person we are after is Mr. Taylor.
TP: But Mr. Taylor is not the only corrupt person within the Liberian government - why just Taylor? If he is gone, the others will still be around. What about the legislature that gave him cart blanche. The ministers?
Mr. William Hanson: Our aim is to create a level playing field. We are not in the business of witch hunting. We are saying that this guy is using the presidency to institutionalize banditry not only in the country, but also in the entire sub-region.
TP: How do you go about replacing him. If LURD succeeds who is going to replace Mr. Taylor? Is there going to be interim government, or is it Konneh who referred to himself on BBC as Commander in Chief? Who is going to replace him?
Mr. William Hanson: The question of replacement is something that all of us - you and other Liberians- have to [decide]. It is something that [requires] the collective will of all Liberians. LURD will not take somebody and say you are the president. That is not the position of LURD.
TP: So are you going to get rid of Mr. Taylor today and then say there will be election tomorrow for the president of Liberia - to elect replacement for Mr. Taylor?
Mr. William Hanson: No that is not exactly what we are saying. We are going to call all political organizations, including the NPP party - all parties will be involved.
TP: Liberians are talking about war crimes tribunal for those who have committed atrocities in the country, including LURD. What is your position?
Mr. William Hanson: We are prepared for anything because our records are clean. We have nothing to hide.
TP: Thank You