Editor's Note: Although the Liberian warring parties initialed an agreement that ushered in a new interim government, the security situation in Liberia has not improved. Fighting between LURD and Taylor’s forces continues. MODEL is also battling Taylor forces in Nimba county and elsewhere. There are reports of heinous crimes including burning villages, raping women and killing innocent people in the county. MODEL is also engaged in selling timber in Southeastern Liberia in violation of UN sanctions imposed on Liberian timber early this year. On the other hand, LURD Sekou Damate Conneh is now saying that the only way LURD will disarm is if UN buys LURD’s arms from him. The International Crisis Group issued an analysis on the security situation in Liberia and the West African sub-region. Excerpts from the report are published below:
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Whether Liberia takes advantage of its best chance for peace in years and West Africa regains stability depends on bold action by the UN, which needs to shape a comprehensive regional security strategy while rapidly building its peacekeeping force up to strength.
The forced departure of former president Charles Taylor on 11 August 2003 after six years of tyranny offers Liberians a chance to reconstruct their country. The arrival of a United Nations force with a robust mandate, which will soon develop into the international body’s biggest peacekeeping operation, is welcome by all who want to see peace in West Africa. But creating that peace will not be easy. Liberia is a broken state whose key infrastructure, physical and social, has been destroyed by years of fighting and self-interested political leadership and turmoil that goes far beyond the person of Charles Taylor. A generation under the age of eighteen has become all too familiar with survival through the gun, and problems in neighbouring countries, particularly Côte d’Ivoire, mean that the drive to create peace is taking place in an environment of insecurity.
Pressing questions concern the forces that were deployed in Liberia’s most recent round of war, in mid-2003. While Taylor’s troops are in disarray, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) remain in offensive mode. They were armed and organised with considerable assistance from Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire respectively. Many in the region wonder what their future will be in the new circumstances.
Another important question concerns the U.S., which has long historical ties to Liberia and gave tacit backing to the forces deployed against Charles Taylor in mid-2003 to force him from power. Continuing U.S. attention is necessary not only if Liberia is to have a chance of rebuilding, but also to prevent previously proxy forces from causing new problems either there or in other parts of the region.
The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) will struggle throughout the remainder of 2003 to organise itself on the ground. Until its military and police forces reach full strength, it will be vulnerable to pressure from a variety of sources inside Liberia, including both former insurgent groups, as well as members of the new National Transitional Government, many of whom have strong connections with the warring factions. This report analyses the immediate security threats UNMIL faces and recommends steps that should be taken by various parties. A subsequent study will examine longer-term issues concerned with the rebuilding of Liberia.
Liberia is at the heart of an unstable region. One neighbour, Sierra Leone, continues a rather uncertain peace process following eleven years of war, and the common border remains a concern. Another neighbour, Côte d’Ivoire, has settled into a situation of neither war nor peace but there are worrisome signs of a resumption of the fighting. Guinea is on the brink of political instability as the career of President Lansana Conté moves towards a close without any clear provision for succession, notwithstanding presidential elections on 21 December 2003. West Africa contains large numbers of small arms and is home to a floating population of veterans from multiple conflicts who are available to fight for anyone who will pay and give a licence to loot.
With three peacekeeping missions along the coast (Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and now Liberia), the UN has a considerable opportunity to drive events. The starting point must be the disarmament of fighters in Liberia but the UN should develop an integrated approach with its three West Africa missions aimed at capturing the weapons of many fighters in Liberia - both foreigners and nationals - and tracking the movement of others in the region, especially those who escape the initial disarmament. Its peacekeepers in Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire should properly monitor and be ready to disarm combatants who cross from Liberia. Regional stability depends largely on stopping the flow of marauding fighters who migrate from conflict to conflict but in the very near term there may be need for coordinated international action to persuade President Gbagbo against returning to war in Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria to prevent Charles Taylor from resuming his mischief in Liberia and elsewhere in the region.
To the UN Security Council:
1. Work to create an integrated structure for administering the UN mandates in the neighbouring countries of Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
2. Design and implement a plan for regional disarmament applicable to all three countries.
3. In pursuit of its previously expressed "readiness to consider, if necessary, ways of promoting compliance" with its demands that all states in the region end their military support to armed groups in Liberia, impose targeted sanctions on the leaders of those states found not in compliance.
4. Create a timetable for the phased lifting of sanctions on Liberia, ensuring at the same time that there is proper management of key government revenue generators like the timber industry, and concurrently strengthen the capabilities of the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia to monitor through forensic auditing the flow of revenue from strategic resources such as timber and the Liberia Ship and Corporate Registry.
To the U.S.:
5. Make clear that it maintains an ‘over the horizon’ military intervention capacity and is willing to deploy it to support the UN mission (UNMIL) in an emergency.
6. Conduct a full-scale training program for the new Liberian armed forces that are to emerge as militias and private armies are disbanded.
7. Ensure that UNMIL is fully funded, most particularly its disarmament and reintegration program.
To the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL):
8. Consult with the International Criminal Court in The Hague on the collection and utilisation of evidence on war crimes and crimes against humanity, and make clear to the leaders of the former warring parties that they will face quick retribution if they violate the Accra peace agreement.
9. Stress to Charles Taylor that he must strictly adhere to the conditions of his asylum and avoid all further involvement in the affairs of Liberia and that if he does not, Nigeria will extradite him to Sierra Leone to face the war crimes indictment issued against him by that country’s Special Court.
To the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL):
Reinforce security along the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia with a view to preventing the passage of unauthorised persons bearing arms and work with Sierra Leone’s army and police to ensure that combatants who have fought in Liberia are disarmed before entering Sierra Leone.
The decision by the UN Security Council to return peacekeepers to Liberia offers the best opportunity the country will have to become a normally functioning state again. On 19 September 2003, the Security Council, under Resolution 1509, established the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) with compulsory (Chapter VII) powers to restore peace. The mandate is comprehensive, tough and intended to be backed by 15,000 peacekeepers and 1,115 international civilian police, of whom at least 200 will be armed to assist in the maintenance of law and order. Once it is at full strength, UNMIL will be the largest and most robust UN mission in the world. Three neighbouring countries in West Africa are subject to UN mandates, including Sierra Leone, which is currently the largest peacekeeping mission, and Côte d’Ivoire. With each mission at different stages of its mandate, the UN and the wider international community have an opportunity that must not be missed to design and implement a truly regional approach to West Africa’s insecurity. Failure would lead quickly to greater troubles and a far greater drain on global resources.
This report examines the state of security in Liberia as the UN establishes its presence. UNMIL will struggle to impose its will, especially in turbulent areas like Nimba County. It will not be possible to secure Liberia without the compliance - however obtained - of the three armed factions that are vying for territory. All three forces - those still loyal to former President Taylor, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), which began as a splinter-group from LURD - have poor command and control. All have origins dating back to Liberia’s first civil war and strong ties to one or more neighbouring states. None of the warring leaders can for long control their ill-disciplined forces, accustomed to living by plunder and associated with the most cynical of politicians. The potential for breakaway groups to emerge is very real. The period from now until disarmament starts in earnest - which is unlikely to be before UN troops are fully deployed, in January 2004 at the very earliest - is the most critical part of the peace process. UNMIL will be tested as fighters try to loot and expand their territory before the UN can spread its authority.
The political climate is similarly fragile. This report is not about the wider governance issues that ICG will analyse in the near future after further in-country research. However, it is important to note that key politicians, veterans of years of war, are not clearly committed to the peace agreement that was signed on 18 August in Accra, Ghana. The commitment, or lack thereof, of the interim government to the peace process will impact heavily on attempts to stabilise Liberia. It was officially installed, under its chairman, former businessman Gyude Bryant, on 14 October 2003 but Liberians have been there before. Interim administrations governed the country from 1990 to 1997. At best they were impotent, and at worst they were simply cover for warlords to loot and further criminalise the state. This transitional government contains an unsavoury mix of nominees of the warring factions, plus some of the same politicians who are responsible for the country’s decline. Together, they are tasked with governing Liberia’s transition for two years, but they are pulling in different directions. Liberians know that many ministers, with backgrounds in warlord armies, can easily disrupt the peace process if they feel it is in their interest.
The Special Representative of the Secretary General and Coordinator of the UN Mission in Liberia (SRSG), Jacques Paul Klein, has already asserted himself. His straightforward, no-nonsense talk - he has called the warlords "gangsters" and dismissed them as mere criminals - has endeared him to many Liberians unaccustomed to blunt words from UN officials but may sharpen reaction among the warring factions. He is at a disadvantage because of the slow arrival of peacekeepers and police. The next two or three months are an exceptionally dangerous moment as the warlords can be expected to exploit the security vacuum. As the military strength at his disposal builds, it might be appropriate for him to take a lower-profile approach that allows attention to shift to the transitional government.
Once the forces at Klein’s disposal are at full strength, however, one can assume that the UN will be able to arrest those who violate the peace. In time, this may enable UNMIL to stamp its authority on Liberia and deliver sustained peace, but the risks are all too apparent. The events of 1 October 2003, when Taylor forces clashed with LURD in Monrovia, were a clear warning. In a previous report on Sierra Leone, ICG recommended that the UN force there (UNAMSIL) adopt a ‘security first’ strategy aimed at quieting the entire country ahead of elections. ICG recommends this strategy to Liberia, which will need full security well before the proposed October 2005 elections. A ‘security first’ approach will, of course, require full disarmament of all warring factions. A vital question is whether Security Council members will provide sufficient money for an effective disarmament and reintegration (DR) process.
UNMIL’s size cannot substitute for quality. UN member-states must commit themselves early to ensure that it is a truly multinational peacekeeping force. Deterrence must back the ‘security first’ strategy, including a warning to Liberia’s neighbours that they may face sanctions if they undermine the peace process. A credible threat needs to be developed that those who threaten the peace will be punished by prosecution before an appropriate court. Curbing and reducing the influence of Taylor himself will remain important, both for building the confidence of Liberians and preventing regional mischief. ICG maintains its recommendations in previous reports and briefings that he should be brought before the Special Court for Sierra Leone if he violates the terms of his negotiated exile in Nigeria and seeks to remain active in Liberia’s affairs.
II. THE ACCRA PEACE AGREEMENT
The signing of the Accra agreement on 18 August 2003 marked a significant moment in Liberia’s long and tortuous search for peace. ICG came away from observing the negotiations, however, with serious questions about the sustainability of the process and concern at the inordinate ambitions demonstrated by several of the key participants. Although there is a provision in the agreement that no representative of a warring faction should hold the position of chairman or vice-chairman in the transitional government, civilians have been held hostage to many demands of the warring factions.
The agreement effectively divided the Liberian state between military formations, political parties and civil society. Indeed, the peace process in Accra was about jobs: generals wanted to know how many positions they could command. The 21 cabinet posts are allocated between the former Taylor government, LURD and MODEL. Former members of Taylor’s government will hold internal affairs, defence, planning and economic affairs, health and social welfare, and post and telecommunications. Some LURD fighters and politicians were visibly upset about the disposition of health and defence, but they accepted instead transport, justice, labour and finance and the ministry of state. MODEL was given agriculture, commerce, foreign affairs, public works and land, mines and energy. The rest - national security, information, education, gender and development, rural development and youth and sports - was split among political parties and civil society.
Even more worrying is that each warring faction was given key public corporations and autonomous agencies, which promises to allow them to continue old habits of siphoning off state resources. MODEL, for example, got the Forestry Development Authority and the Bureau of Maritime Affairs. With a foothold in key timber ports in Harper, Greenville and Buchanan, its leaders stand to make lucrative logging deals, some of which will be used to maintain their fighting capacity. LURD leadership is pleased to have the management of the Port Authority, a position formerly held by one of their senior advisers, and the General Service Agency, a body originally created by Charles Taylor allegedly to service government procurement requirements but in fact designed to enable its directors to provide cars and other gifts to friends and allies. Appointees of the former government will control the strategic Liberian Petroleum Refining Corporation, a body that Taylor used to generate income by charging consumers excessive prices for petrol refined from low-cost oil imports.
It is reasonably being asked, "how many of the fighters and politicians have a genuine interest in continuing the chaos or working to rebuild Liberia?" The persistent focus at Accra on jobs, cars and money rather than the challenges confronting Liberia gives a clue to the character of the transitional government. It is an indicator, if one were needed, that the country’s political class and its associated warlords have little interest either in the technical efficiency of government or its ability to deliver public goods to a broad range of citizens. Many members of the transitional administration will be holding formal office for the first time, with no knowledge or experience of government. In general, it may be said that the interim government is made up of two extremes - experienced office holders (Charles Taylor’s former ministers) who mostly have an appalling record of venality and thuggishness, and others "who have been exiles and refugees, some in the bush who could never get food and are now asked to govern without looting".
The inauguration of Gyude Bryant as the chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) on 14 October began the process of implementing the Accra peace agreement. But the establishment of an interim administration is only the first step on a long and arduous road if Liberia is actually to have peace. The political process must be underpinned by a strong security component. Securing the capital and the fourteen counties will be a hugely difficult task for UN peacekeepers, made all the more complex by the high expectations of fighters who anticipate being rewarded for what they have achieved and being given new incentives if they are to lay down their arms. Many rebel fighters and their leaders will see Monrovia as a personal fiefdom to exploit after so many years in the wilderness during Charles Taylor’s rule…
III. THE ARMED FACTIONS
The prevailing view in UNMIL is that time is almost up for the 48,000 to 58,000 fighters it estimates are in Liberia. The reasoning goes that LURD and MODEL no longer have a motive to fight since they have achieved their primary goal of getting rid of Charles Taylor, and their sources of supply will dwindle away; Guinea’s President Lansana Conté has also achieved his goal of removing Taylor and has no obvious reason to keep the tap open for LURD; similarly the Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo, has pushed the Taylor forces who supported his opponents in 2002-2003 back into Liberia. These assumptions are all plausible but other factors also need to be considered.
Dangers for the UN are the high expectations generated among LURD and MODEL fighters in their advance towards Monrovia and the bitterness among Taylor’s forces that they won the battle for Monrovia but lost the war. U.S. and UN officials confirmed to ICG in late September 2003 that Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire respectively were still supplying their LURD and MODEL allies with weapons even after Taylor’s departure, suggesting that they may retain ambitions for their Liberian proxies. Moreover, there are suggestions that LURD fighters in particular might regroup in Sierra Leone. These and other factors indicate that, even if the UN succeeds in disarming most fighters in Liberia itself, many may continue their activities elsewhere in the region, as has happened so often in the past.
Hence, the UN will have to find a way of managing expectations and neutralising the capacity of fighters to spoil the peace not only in Liberia, but also in neighbouring countries. LURD fighters firmly believe - with considerable justification - that it was largely through their efforts that Charles Taylor eventually heeded international calls to step down. As one Liberian noted to ICG, "LURD think they are saviours and that everybody owes them". The peace dividend - jobs, education and money - will need to come quickly, but this will not happen if DR is not fully funded and competently handled. The ministries and parastatal positions awarded to the warring factions are important prizes but they will not be filled by the rank and file. Their leaders may well soon forget them but if fighters fail to see significant rewards for their years in the bush in the DR packages, a return to war is all too likely - in a neighbouring country in the short term, in Liberia in the longer term.
A. CHARLES TAYLOR’S FORCES
The former president’s supporters stand to lose much from the peace process. The fact that Daniel Chea, Taylor’s former defence minister, continues to hold this position under the new interim government might persuade some fighters that they will have an opportunity to enter a newly reformed army and retain some important commands. But Taylor’s departure has tremendously weakened his troops, who are demoralised and gradually splintering. In any event, they never amounted to a single, coherent force. As a Liberian human rights activist noted, Taylor had a security arrangement that "was neither conventional nor unconventional". The generals answered to him personally. Each had sweeping powers over those he commanded but there was no attempt at an integrated structure. Instead power was deliberately divided so that no one unit had the means to launch a coup against the self-proclaimed ruler of Greater Liberia in the early 1990s, and the formally elected, internationally recognised president from 1997 to 2003.
Credible estimates of the numbers in pro-Taylor units range from 7,000 to 11,000. There is a further figure of between 20,000 and 30,000 in militias loosely aligned to Taylor, some of whom fought under the name of the official national army, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). Surviving forces include: the elite Anti-Terrorist Unit, numbering about 6,000, including some 2,500 in Monrovia under General Winnie, formerly number two to Taylor’s son, Chucky. Also in Monrovia are the Jungle Lions under General Roland Duo, numbering some 1,500. There are 200 to 300 Marines under General Gonda. The Special Strike Force commanded by Adolphus Dolo appeared in early October 2003 to be hemmed in at Saclapea, Nimba County, by MODEL and LURD and unable to reach Monrovia. Taylor’s personal protection force, the Special Security Service (SSS), numbering 300 to 800, has been under the control of his most trusted security chief and assassin, Benjamin Yeaten. Finally, a paramilitary police unit, the Special Operations Division (SOD) under Colonel Sahr Gbollie, has about 215 men in Monrovia.
Now that the "Papay" has gone, there is no longer a leader to hold these disparate elements together. The key commanders have their personal followers, but they do not possess the same authority as Taylor, and their futures are uncertain. Yeaten, loyal to Taylor since their training days together in Libya in the late 1980s, knows no other life than to kill for him and has little prospect of employment elsewhere. There are worrying and persistent rumours about his whereabouts. Since Taylor’s departure, he has several times been reported to have left Monrovia for Ghana. Some sources have claimed he is attempting to recruit fighters in Bouaké, northern Côte d’Ivoire, home of the Ivorian rebel Mouvement pour la Justice et la Paix. Kuku Dennis, from a leading Monrovia family, will most likely be focused on maintaining his logging business in Nimba and Grand Gedeh County. Dolo, whom Taylor summoned back to help him in 2003, may want to return to the U.S. where he is reported to have right of residence.
Essentially leaderless and with little room to manoeuvre, many of Taylor’s fighters may turn to armed robbery to survive. Many were not paid even before Taylor’s departure. Many are also hungry. In Buchanan, for example, Joseph Wong and Gus van Kouwenhoven of the Oriental Timber Company (OTC), who have managed logging operations for Taylor since the first civil war, fed his fighters while they evacuated their own heavy equipment. Now they have gone, leaving the fighters without food, which appears to have been one reason Buchanan fell rapidly to MODEL in late July 2003.
Several people interviewed by ICG described Nimba County as "precarious", "volatile" and near explosion, even "probably the biggest mess in the country". It is home to many Taylor fighters, mainly from the Gio and Mano groups, who rallied to him at the start of the first war, in 1989-1990. Key commanders, including Yeaten and Duo, are from Nimba, as is Moses Blah, who briefly succeeded Taylor as president. LURD is still pressing hard on Nimba from Lofa County and Gbarnga (Bong County), and MODEL is raiding from the south. Sensing that Taylor’s fighters are war-weary, both may try to consolidate their territorial gains before UNMIL is able to stop them. The worst scenario would involve ethnic killings by LURD and MODEL in Nimba, particularly by the former’s Mandingo elements against the Gio and Mano, in revenge for the support they gave Taylor and the 1990 pogroms against Krahn and Mandingo people. Those abuses were in turn motivated by persecutions going back to the early 1980s. The cycle must be halted.
A final - but vital - question concerns Taylor’s own future. Although he is in a comfortable exile in Nigeria, there is every reason to believe that he remains focused on Liberia, constantly phones his associates and commanders and both receives and hands out cash to maintain his patronage network. Conventional wisdom suggests that he will be unable to maintain remote control for long, but some well-informed sources suggest that a shift in regional alliances could permit his re-entry into Liberia via Nimba County.
ICG has consistently reported the numerous internal divisions that have affected LURD and challenged its chairman, Sekou Conneh, but these did not divert its advance on Monrovia in early 2003 where the demonstration of its military capabilities surprised observers. The new assessment of LURD’s armed strength should not be mistaken for endorsement of its methods. Its bombardments of defenceless non-combatants were brutal in the extreme and devoid of military rationale.
Observers remain divided over basic questions such as the coherence of the organisation and its survival now that it has achieved its core objective. Some see LURD as bent only on personal enrichment and power. There are clear factional struggles that may be sharpened by an anticipated cut-off of Guinean support and whatever encouragement LURD has been obtaining from the U.S. and by a realisation that fighters at least will receive limited rewards.
Much depends on whether LURD can maintain its links in Conakry. If not, the biggest loser may be Conneh, though some of his people might nevertheless get positions in the interim government. Conneh’s power in LURD is largely derived from the strong ties of his wife, Ayesha, with Guinea’s President Conté, which apparently date to 1996, when he became convinced that she had spiritual powers that could protect him against harm. Thanks to his wife’s influence, Sekou Conneh was able to control all military supplies coming to LURD from Conakry and assure his position at the head of the movement. With Taylor gone, the old common interest between LURD and Conneh, as between Conté and LURD, is gone but it appears that Ayesha Conneh has ambitions of her own that may keep the connections together at least for a time.
It remains unclear whether the lines of communication that developed between Guinean army officers and LURD created personal connections that will complicate the politics of Guinea’s armed forces. Guinean soldiers at the border town of Macenta certainly established operational links, assisting LURD fighters’ entry into Liberia and providing artillery cover during months of heavy fighting in Lofa and Bomi County. There is photographic evidence of uniformed Guinean soldiers with LURD deep inside Liberia.
For all its relative military success, LURD has major political handicaps. Like other Liberian factions, it is a volatile mixture of elements. Also like other factions, it is largely descended from a militia formed in the early 1990s. In this case it was a wing of the defunct United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia, ULIMO-K, that had an appalling reputation in parts of western Liberia, where it was responsible for heavier looting than probably any other faction and committed some of the worst atrocities, particularly in upper Lofa County. If only for this reason, LURD, has to overcome deep distrust.
Liberians regard LURD as a movement dominated by Mandingos, and indeed Sekou Conneh and many senior commanders are from that ethnic group, which is considered to have its historic centre in Guinea. Mandingos are widely seen as foreigners, despite their long presence in the country. Largely for this reason, many Liberians discount the possibility of a Mandingo president, and LURD nominees, particularly if Mandingo, can expect nothing more senior than a cabinet ministry. Realisation of their movement’s political limitations could lead some LURD fighters to challenge a peace process that they calculate offers them little. If so, they would look for more help from Guinea, whose president is said to have expected LURD to seize Monrovia, but they would have other sources as well.
With a foothold in the capital, LURD can raise funds through the goods it looted during the fighting (including cars, generators, computers, tools, machines) and sent to Guinea and Sierra Leone via Tubmanburg and Gbarnga. Some have appeared in Bo, Kenema and Freetown markets. The LURD coordinating office on Bushrod Island serves as a clearing-house. Stolen vehicles can be reclaimed at a going price of U.S.$500. In October 2003, ICG saw civilians applying to retrieve their vehicles and LURD officials typing a laissez-passer, on receipt of money, for those wishing to travel to Po River or Tubmanburg to collect them. It is an enterprise that UNMIL will need to shut down.
Of all the warring factions, LURD can cause the biggest threat to the peace process and a weak interim government. That potential was displayed in the second half of October when a dispute broke out with Gyude Bryant over positions in the interim government. Conneh wanted his Chief of Staff, Mohammed Aliyu "Cobra" Sheriff, to have that same position in the new army. When that was not offered, LURD demonstrated how volatile Liberia remains by cutting off NGO and UNMIL movement to Tubmanburg and threatening renewal of the conflict. A military official commented: "LURD has everything to play for. They have the largest [capability], militarily to spoil the peace. They can therefore be flexible in their negotiations. Conneh knows that his fighters can cause problems for the UN".
Perhaps the most worrying possibility, however - and one of the most likely - is that disgruntled LURD fighters will drift away from Liberia to make common cause with the former Civil Defence Force militias in eastern Sierra Leone, the Kamajors. LURD has had a connection to them since its inception in Sierra Leone in 1999, and there are many Sierra Leoneans in its high command. ICG learned of at least five such LURD commanders in Gbarnga, Bong County, who seem to be veterans of the war in eastern Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. The Kamajor heartland of Bo is home to many former Kamajors who are dissatisfied with their demobilisation in Sierra Leone and angry at the imprisonment of their one-time leader, the former national deputy minister of defence, Chief Sam Hinga Norman, and others - Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondawa - who have been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Kamajor forces in the east of Sierra Leone are known to have kept command structures intact. Having been partly financed from locally mined diamonds in the past, the Kamajors are in a better position than ever to commandeer the wealth from Sierra Leone’s conflict diamonds, which come from their home region, now that competition from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and other pro-Taylor forces has been eliminated. A history of cross-border collaboration between Kamajors and LURD, plus shared historical and cultural links between Mende Kamajors and Liberian Mandingos, could well augur the emergence of a formidable new force astride the Sierra Leone-Liberia border in coming months.
The last and smallest of the major warring groups, MODEL, is also a descendant of the old ULIMO organisation, but of the ULIMO-J faction. It is closely related to LURD in various ways: both are offspring of the original ULIMO, which was formed in 1991 in Sierra Leone and Guinea to fight against Charles Taylor but later splintered into rival factions. The LURD wing based in Côte d’Ivoire emerged in early 2003 as MODEL. A feature of Liberia’s wars has been the tendency of armed groups to split, but also to make alliances of opportunity. A chief skill of the country’s extraordinarily duplicitous generation of politicians has been to maintain sufficient distance from the fighters to avoid being tainted with accusations of warlordism, while staying close enough to manipulate the divisions and fusions to their advantage.
MODEL’s organisational structure is unclear but it is heavily dependent on Côte d’Ivoire. Its unusually rapid movement into the southeast of Liberia was largely attributable to sponsorship from the Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo. Western diplomats confirm that during all its attacks, MODEL was fully supplied by Ivorians with uniforms, weapons and money. Within a few months, it pushed along the coast to take control of Grand Bassa County and Liberia’s second-largest city, Buchanan, which is not only the base of the OTC timber company, once a major generator of Taylor’s income, but also a major port through which his weapons used to flow and which still holds 800,000 tons of iron ore worth about U.S.$5.6 million.
MODEL’s links with Côte d’Ivoire will not be easily severed. The military supply line from Guiglo still exists, and MODEL retains a command post in Toulépleu, close to the Liberian border, where its commander, Paye Duoway (‘General John Garang’), was based until he moved to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh, on about 20 August. During an ICG visit to Buchanan, a number of people interviewed said that many in the first wave of MODEL fighters to reach the port spoke French and openly identified themselves as Ivorians, recruited from the pro-Gbagbo military and militias earlier based in the west of Côte d’Ivoire. MODEL’s deep Ivorian connection could mean that it will evolve into a buffer force for Gbagbo if hostilities resume in Côte d’Ivoire. French troops deployed in Côte d’Ivoire under Operation Licorne established a presence in Toulépleu in September, from where they are presumably in a position to regulate weapons flows.
A majority of MODEL fighters and commanders probably fought with ULIMO-J in Liberia’s first civil war. Before that, many of the older fighters were in the regular armed forces, the AFL, or were part of Samuel Doe’s elite Special Anti-Terrorist Unit (SATU, similar to Taylor’s ATU). An eventual restructuring of the AFL will, therefore, be a high priority for MODEL. There are, however, younger elements in MODEL. In October 2003 ICG saw boys sporting obviously new weapons, in particular AK-47s, many also wearing braided hair or women’s wigs, generally a sign of adolescent initiation into the ranks of the fighters. Many MODEL fighters in Buchanan looked as young as fourteen. Some on the outskirts were spending their day drinking the traditional and potent West African palm wine.
With an estimated 1,000 fighters, MODEL is much smaller and weaker than LURD, and international NGO workers report that it generally accords them respect. On 29 September 2003, MODEL relaxed Buchanan’s curfew from 6 to 10 p.m. Although there appears to have been a decline in looting, a number of people in the city indicated to ICG in October that MODEL continued to intimidate, and there were also reports of theft and rape by the group’s fighters.
Politically, MODEL is largely seen as a movement of henchmen of the former president, Samuel Doe that is dominated by his group, the Krahn. One Liberian called it "the lost tribe who lost power to Taylor and want it back". A number of MODEL fighters interviewed by ICG wore grey t-shirts made in Côte d’Ivoire with the inscription ‘New Horizon, New Idea, New Direction’, redolent of the New Horizons movement created by Krahn living in the U.S. that sponsored a coup attempt in Monrovia in 1994.
MODEL’s command and control is unclear. Internal problems came to a head in June 2003, when the former leader of ULIMO-J, Roosevelt Johnson, appears to have made an attempt to challenge the political leadership under Thomas Yaya Nimley. A Krahn from Grand Gedeh County, Nimley sold his house in the U.S. to fund the struggle from Côte d’Ivoire. He spent time in Abidjan from where he directed MODEL negotiators in Accra until he went there to sign the peace agreement. But MODEL lacks real political leaders, and a Western diplomat commented on its lack of senior figures with education. The group has sought portfolios in the transition government that will help with the logging interests of money men like its chief negotiator in Accra, J. Denis Slanger, brother to the notorious Edward Slanger.
IV. UN PRESENCE: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
The mandate given to UNMIL compares favourably with that accorded to earlier UN missions in the region. From 1993 to 1997 the UN troops in Liberia were essentially observers, playing second fiddle to the main peacekeeping force, the West African-organised ECOMOG. A more apt comparison for UNMIL is UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone. The mandate is robust, and while there is disappointment at the U.S. failure to participate significantly, the force will include a small contingent from a permanent member of the Security Council that has not previously been active in peacekeeping - China. But what should perhaps be the most important lesson from the UN experience in Sierra Leone seems not yet to have been clearly learned, namely that the mission must be adequately funded and, most particularly, adequate resources must be made available for disarming and demobilising fighters not just in one country, but in a coordinated process across the region.
Kofi Annan’s Special Representative in Liberia, Jacques Paul Klein, was a career U.S. Foreign Service Officer for a quarter-century before being appointed in 1996, in the wake of the Bosnia war, the UN Transitional Administrator for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium. In August 1999, he became the Coordinator of United Nations Operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In all three UN assignments, he has held the rank of Under-Secretary-General.
While Klein has only some of the powers of an imperial pro-consul, he has much of the style. He likes to smoke Churchillian cigars and carry a silver-topped walking cane. He has travelled through the centre of Monrovia on top of an armoured vehicle and is what might be described, gently, as a self-assured personality. While this approach alarms many UN bureaucrats, and also some long-term foreign residents of Liberia, it resonates among Liberians who remember that their most famous and longest-serving president, William Tubman (1944-71), also sported enormous cigars, while both Presidents William Tolbert (1971-80) and Charles Taylor habitually carried a carved walking-stick. Klein is outspoken. His language is particularly colourful when he is putting the warring factions and their leaders in what he regards as their proper place. He has called Charles Taylor a "psychopathic killer" and a "pathological liar" and publicly told former interim President Blah that he "does not know what he is talking about". He habitually refers to the factions as "criminals", "gangsters" and "armed drugged thugs", all characterisations Liberians appear to regard as good plain speaking. His approach is viewed as "refreshing" by some of his staff; others are concerned that in the long run his "lucid tongue" might pose problems for building consensus.
1. U.S. Role
Although the American background of the Secretary General’s Special Representative has been seen by some as a means for the U.S. to keep an eye on its interest in Liberia while distancing itself from formal involvement, Klein himself does not hide his annoyance with former American colleagues. He finds it "amazing" and "surprising", given historical ties binding the countries, that the U.S. has resisted more direct involvement in Liberia, which, he says, has done its part for the West, though no one seems to remember: for example, Roberts Field International Airport was built as a refuelling stop for transports carrying combat planes in crates from California via Brazil, Liberia and Morocco to Britain during World War Two; Liberia’s Maritime Bureau was created to give a neutral flag to U.S. ships delivering strategic goods. The U.S. did play a useful role, as discussed below, in achieving Taylor’s removal, and helped the first stage of the multilateral intervention by providing logistical support to 3,600 ECOMIL troops and paying to airlift part of the Nigerian contingent, at a cost of at least U.S.$26 million. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the U.S. sponsored the Security Council resolution that created UNMIL in September 2003 in the hope of facilitating an early exit from its limited deployment in Liberia.
Even from a narrow definition of its national interests, the U.S. missed an opportunity. It had a chance to demonstrate, at a time when Liberia was receiving unprecedented media attention, that it could help restore peace and transform the political outlook in a corner of the world where "Uncle Sam" remains highly popular. Even Liberia’s warring factions revere the U.S. As former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner acknowledged, "U.S. actions would…represent for [the] U.S. a memorable foreign policy success story". The Pentagon, however, viewed Liberia in the light of its distressing experience in Somalia in 1993 and misjudged the situation. Washington should have taken a leaf from the British script in Sierra Leone, where a highly theatrical (but militarily limited) intervention in the capital and its environs, including a demonstration of airpower and an ‘over the horizon’ strike force, gave an impression of readiness to fight, served as a powerful psychological tool, and thus transformed the political situation. Like the British rapid deployment, U.S. boots on the ground would have had a massive psychological effect.
At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear how central a part the U.S. government, especially the Department of Defence, took in orchestrating various aspects of Charles Taylor’s overthrow. After years in which it was hard to arouse much interest in Liberia, the Pentagon’s attention seems to have been focused by the realisation of Charles Taylor’s responsibility for regional destabilisation, especially after his attack on Guinea in September 2000, and by evidence that emerged from late 2001 of his earlier business connections with al-Qaeda. A well-informed military source in the region described LURD to ICG as "a creation of the American secret services".
This is an exaggeration, not least because anti-Taylor Liberians were coalescing in Sierra Leone and Guinea irrespective of any U.S. involvement. However, there is no doubt that Guinea was essential to the arming of LURD and that U.S. authorities were aware of this. A former U.S. diplomat who retains a close interest in West Africa and good contacts with serving officials in U.S. government agencies went so far as to describe LURD’s campaign as a "proxy war".
The simultaneous build-up of MODEL in Côte d’Ivoire also appears to have occurred with the knowledge of U.S. agencies. Sources in Abidjan that ICG has found accurate on other security issues alleged that U.S. officials helped MODEL receive arms of Ukrainian manufacture via Côte d’Ivoire. A U.S. military official with knowledge of the issue described Charles Taylor’s downfall as resulting from "an alignment of the planets" - but it appears to have had more to do with sophisticated human coordination than any movement of the heavenly spheres. Pressures on Charles Taylor converged, notably on 4 June 2003.
ICG received hints from U.S. government sources even earlier that an offensive on Monrovia might begin on or about that time. On the date his capital was assaulted by LURD, he was indicted for war crimes by the Sierra Leone Special Court, and there was an apparent attempt at a coup within his own entourage. This sequence of events suggests that the U.S. refusal to commit peacekeeping forces to Liberia in mid-2003 may have been due not only to strategic doubts and bureaucratic wrangling, but also to a desire to give LURD sufficient time to overthrow Taylor. If so, the Americans in Monrovia who endured mortar bombardments by LURD in June-July 2003 may have had mixed feelings about the strategy - in essence, they were under fire from ordnance procured by LURD through Guinea with the concurrence of U.S. officials. A diplomat in the region recalled that staff at the embassy "were not very happy" with this situation. Both then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner and his deputy, Pamela Bridgewater, went to Conakry at the height of the bombardments in Monrovia to warn President Conté about his support to LURD.
The U.S. government has stated that it will remain involved in Liberia in some capacity. It is seconding nine officers to UNMIL (two headquarters staffers and seven military observers, similar to British involvement in Sierra Leone’s UNAMSIL). But the U.S. should go one step further, as the British did in Sierra Leone, and provide an ‘over the horizon’ force as demonstrative support for UNMIL.
SGSR Klein, meanwhile, hopes to secure U.S. involvement, if not in the full operations of his mission, then in bilateral initiatives. The U.S. committed itself quickly to help restructure and train a new Liberian army. The U.S. Senate is expected to complete Congressional action on 3 November 2003 and send to President Bush for signature a supplemental appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2004 that includes a U.S.$245 million contribution to UN peacekeeping costs (primarily Liberia) and U.S.$200 million in "international disaster assistance" funding that is earmarked specifically for Liberia and can be used for the full range of post-conflict aid, including reconstruction, governance, basic infrastructure and humanitarian programs. This is seen as opening the way for the U.S. to play a major role in the rebuilding of the country.
B. DISARMING THE FIGHTERS
UNMIL has to disarm fighters while blocking outside interference and finding the best way to deal with those who violate the peace process. At least 20,000 of the estimated 48,000 to 58,000 combatants who need to be disarmed are under eighteen, thus falling into the category of child soldiers, and of these around half (mainly LURD and Taylor forces) are females,. "Most of the fighters", noted a UN officer, "will soon recognise that they will get little", but many will only disarm if they feel they have something to gain from the process. As in Sierra Leone, a number of hardliners might choose to flee across the porous borders to escape the disarmament program; there are indications that some are already doing so.
It is vital to find out how many mercenaries and foreign elements are within the various fighting forces. The most prominent foreign fighters in Liberia are from Sierra Leone, and they have fought for all sides. The presence of former Kamajor fighters commanding LURD units near Gbarnga has been mentioned. ICG was informed that fighters in Foya Kamala, a strategic village in northwest Liberia near the Guinea and Sierra Leone borders, have filtered into Guinea’s forest region. Some buried their weapons before leaving. What is worrying is that Foya Kamala was not only the base for Taylor’s Navy Division, but also home to fighters from the RUF (Sierra Leone) rebel group and dissidents from Guinea.
West African heads of state have stressed to Klein the importance of keeping combatants inside Liberia lest they wreak havoc in the region. However, it will be impossible to stop those who choose to return home. Sierra Leoneans, who have been fighting for both sides in Liberia, might feel that they have more to gain by returning. What is essential is to disarm them before they go. The failure to regionalise the DR program in Sierra Leone was one reason so many former combatants ended up fighting in neighbouring wars. At least 200 RUF fighters are known to have joined their leader, the late Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, in Foya Kamala. The exact numbers of Kamajor civil defence militia who fought with LURD is unknown but the UN and Sierra Leone security authorities say there are between 1,000 and 8,000 former Kamajors in Liberia who are deciding whether to go home or see what the new disarmament package offers. In Guinea, civilian volunteers armed by the government to counter the September 2000 Liberian attack were never fully disarmed. Many moved to Lofa County in northern Liberia to fight with the LURD before heading to Côte d’Ivoire. Such experiences illustrate the necessity of an integrated, regional disarmament program if insecurity is to be halted, rather than the ending of one war resulting in the flare-up of another.
Regional leaders must also be more vigilant in monitoring the movement of fighters if there is to be proper disarmament in Liberia. Sierra Leone’s decision on 23 September 2003 to allow a LURD convoy carrying Chairman Sekou Conneh from Guinea through Kambia District, Bo and Kenema to Tubmanburg was seen as a good will gesture but it also gave LURD fighters an opportunity to move freely in and out of Sierra Leone. While the army (RSLAF) and police (SLP) kept a watchful eye on that convoy, the number of fighters who have transited unofficially since the 23 September movement has been considerable, sometimes without the prior or immediate knowledge of Sierra Leone border authorities. A senior LURD commander passed through Sierra Leone with several lorries suspected to be carrying looted goods from Liberia. The lorries were unaccompanied by either the RSLAF or SLP, thus raising concerns about the movement of arms into and out of Sierra Leone. These incidents highlight the inefficiency of RSLAF border monitoring. Senior Sierra Leone officials called the situation "confusing" but a military officer described the failure to control LURD fighters as "a debacle".
Particularly worrying is the friction between Sierra Leone’s army and police at the border. The RSLAF admits that the police, with their armed Operational Support Division (OSD), have primacy in controlling activities at the Mano River Bridge in Zimmi and are meant to be the first point of contact for LURD entry, with their own troops in support. Disputes over control of that bridge are largely financially motivated. As a senior Sierra Leone security official noted, confusion on the border is all about "who deals with the loot". A military officer told ICG, "it is open season" on the border, with bribes being solicited for allowing looted goods to pass, but competition for money on the bridge is diverting eyes from the serious job of ensuring that Liberia’s arms stay out of Sierra Leone.
UNAMSIL peacekeepers and military observers are now working with the RSLAF and SLP to tighten the border but a proper assessment by Sierra Leone security authorities is needed to define and clarify police and army roles. This is especially true as ICG was informed that there are numerous unofficial crossing points, and neither the RSLAF nor the SLP has the capacity to deal with the flow of fighters and looted goods. Many crossings are at night when there is a more relaxed attitude toward security. As many as 30 to 40 canoes at a time are said to cross into Sierra Leone at a number of border villages. Moreover, as Sierra Leone enters the dry season, its eastern border is likely to see increased movement by foot of people carrying looted goods from Liberia. As an immediate and short-term measure, a mobile UNAMSIL force, with helicopters and trucks and of at least battalion size, could give the SLP and RSLAF valuable help in managing border security.
Meanwhile, disarmament has to be successfully achieved. UNMIL presented a DR action plan to the Security Council on 19 October 2003 for disarming, demobilising, reintegrating and, where necessary, repatriating fighters. An initial phase of planning and awareness raising within Liberia is underway. It is expected that the second phase, from about 1 to 31 December, will involve the establishment of cantonment sites in areas where UNMIL is operating, with further sites to be added as its on-ground strength increases. The Accra peace accords call for creation of a National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (NCDDRR), as was done in Sierra Leone, to provide policy guidance on and coordinate all DR activities. It is to include representatives from the interim government, LURD, MODEL, ECOWAS, the UN and the International Contact Group for Liberia.
Fighters still talk about earlier failed disarmament programs in Liberia that left veterans holding worthless vouchers that were to be exchanged for goods and services that never materialised. Some are embittered to this day. The fighters are fully aware of the disarmament program in Sierra Leone and want something similar. First, the money given to fighters in the course of the DR process must be adequate. In Sierra Leone, a reinsertion package (or "transition subsistence allowance") of up to U.S.$300 was given in two instalments. The first tranche of U.S.$150 was paid upon demobilisation while the second was paid as combatants returned to their communities. UNMIL must offer enough to buy up weapons, but not so much as to create a market that will suck in supplies from abroad. Secondly, there must be good planning linked to security sector reform. Thirdly, and most difficult, new opportunities must be available immediately. If reintegration programs are delayed, including access to school, fighters will get bored, hungry and restive. A possible option suggested by the U.S. ambassador, John Blaney, is for a Civilian Conservation Corps program giving food for work. The aim would be to get fighters to clean up Monrovia, but they will quickly become impatient for more concrete incentives.
Funding will remain a core problem. A special program will be needed for the many child soldiers. Ensuring decent education will go a long way to breaking their links with commanders. Donors will, however, need to be pressed. A lesson from other UN missions is that disarmament cannot be done on the cheap. The UN should, as an urgent priority, draw the initial money from its assessed budget for the overall peacekeeping mission in Liberia. An investment in disarmament at this stage will almost certainly save far larger sums in a few years’ time.
C. ADDRESSING WAR CRIMES
SGSR Klein has made public his concern about Charles Taylor’s continuing political activity, in violation of the terms of his exile. He is also concerned about how to deal with those who disturb the peace process in Liberia more generally. Even if UNMIL arrests them, it is not clear what should be done. There is no Special Court for Liberia like that in Sierra Leone, and the jurisdictional and political issues are tricky.
1. Charles Taylor
The former president resigned his office and went into exile in Nigeria after accepting an offer of asylum tendered by President Olusegun Obasanjo that was conditioned on his remaining out of Liberian politics. It appears, nevertheless, that he continues to intervene from long distance and represents both an immediate irritant and a longer-term threat to stability in the country and the region. Klein does not hide his desire to see Taylor brought before the Special Court of Sierra Leone, which has indicted him for charges relating to responsibility for the war in that country. Klein says he will present evidence to Nigeria’s President showing that Taylor is abusing the terms of his asylum in Calabar, southeast Nigeria. He cites calls made by Taylor threatening Liberians he wishes to influence. Taylor is also believed by ICG sources to have communicated directly with his military commanders and to continue doing business in Liberia. During the September 2003 UN General Assembly session, Secretary General Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged President Obasanjo to warn Taylor against such interference, and Obasanjo is known to have summoned the exiled leader to Abuja to caution him in the middle of that month.
Taylor’s trial before the Special Court in Freetown would be thoroughly deserved and a salutary lesson for all aggressive dictators with blood on their hands. But in the interests of maintaining the credibility of negotiated solutions of the kind that is now achieving an end to the conflict in Liberia, the temptation to bring him there should be resisted unless he continues to break the terms of the deal by which he was removed from Liberia in the first place.
Obasanjo should certainly put serious pressure on the former Liberian leader, in the first instance reminding him that his privileges can be easily removed. It costs Nigeria some U.S.$30,000 per day to maintain Taylor and his entourage, and the presence of the former Liberian president, responsible for the murder of probably hundreds of Nigerian hostages in 1990 and the deaths of hundreds more Nigerian soldiers in subsequent years, is deeply unpopular with the public. If Taylor ignores that warning, Obasanjo should then feel freed of the diplomatic obligations he assumed by offering the original asylum deal and make it clear to Taylor that upon the next violation of its terms, he will extradite his guest back to the jurisdiction of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Other approaches should also be explored to reduce Taylor’s influence in Liberia. One possibility is to break his commercial interests there. Taylor’s extensive business empire is widely believed to be tied to the activities of important Lebanese businessmen with whose help he has monopoly control over the country’s petroleum-refining business and a share in other lucrative enterprises, such as frozen food products. His main commercial partners have been accustomed to paying no tax on imported goods. As UNMIL assumes more oversight of Liberia’s finances, mechanisms should be put in place to uncover the various commercial activities linked to Taylor. In particular, it needs to ascertain who is collecting the former president’s profits and managing his business affairs while he is in Nigeria.
Taylor’s continuing activities should be disrupted not just for retributive purposes but because, as informed military sources have emphasised to ICG, he still represents a real risk for the further destabilisation of Liberia and the wider region. Most immediately perhaps, should the deteriorating situation in Côte d’Ivoire lead to renewed fighting, Taylor could quite conceivably resume his ties with old associates connected with the main insurgent group, the MPCI, and with his long-standing partner, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso. If he or his allies were to operate again in northern Côte d’Ivoire, Taylor could relatively easily re-establish direct contact across the border with Liberia’s Nimba County, his original political base, and re-equip the many fighters there who are still loyal to him, in an exact replay of his first campaign, in 1989-1990.
Some observers see this as a fantasy scenario and discount Taylor
as a spent force, no longer seriously relevant to current events. This is
a dangerous underestimation of a man who throughout his career has shown a
ruthless drive for power and remarkable ability to adjust to and overcome
setbacks. At least prudence should dictate a vigorous effort to neutralise
2. Transitional Justice
SGSR Klein has already signalled his intention to see to it that anyone who breaks the peace agreement is punished. His message to the fighters and politicians is "if you break the (Accra) peace agreement, you will be arrested and face prosecution". He wrote to Taylor’s immediate successor, Moses Blah, that he rejected the idea of any blanket amnesty for war crimes. This emphasis on doing justice to Liberia’s ‘hard men’ is admirable but leaves open the question of how it can be done. The Security Council’s mandate for UNMIL "stresses the need to bring to justice those responsible" for human rights violations and atrocities against the Liberian population, but says nothing about procedures and mechanisms.
UNMIL’s international force of armed policemen may have the capacity by relatively early in the new year to arrest at least some of those suspected of the worst crimes during the fighting of recent years or of acting against Accra. It could hand them over for trial to Liberian civilian authorities, but the country’s justice system is moribund, with few judges regarded as honest or competent. The transitional government itself will contain many undesirables who cannot plausibly be asked to preside over any justice mechanism.
Klein himself does not believe that there will be any money to establish a new tribunal specifically for Liberia, whether a fully international one like those handling the cases from the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in The Hague and Arusha respectively, or a hybrid like the Special Court for Sierra Leone. While some have suggested that the latter court’s jurisdiction be expanded to cover Liberia, this seems not feasible for both legal and practical reasons. Ambitious but vague talk of establishing a regional court for West Africa is unlikely to crystallise in a timeframe relevant to Liberia’s pressing needs.
The most reasonable and practical approach would normally be for UNMIL to consult with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague about the collection and use of evidence on war crimes. The ICC is competent to deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed after 1 July 2000 when the state that would otherwise have jurisdiction is unable or unwilling to exercise it. However, in the week preceding the inauguration of Liberia’s interim administration on 14 October, Liberia’s then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Lewis Brown, signed an agreement with the U.S. government providing that U.S. citizens would not be turned over to the ICC. This is a serious limitation since many of Liberia’s warlords and some of its worst human rights violators have U.S. passports. It is unclear what sanctions could be applied to such individuals by the U.S. government or any other authorities. By signing such an agreement with a government that U.S. officials recognised contained gangsters and criminals just one week before it was to be dissolved, Washington acted in accordance with its strongly expressed opposition to the ICC, but it also severely restricted the prospect both of bringing war criminals to justice and of using a credible threat of prosecution to hold to good behaviour some of those who may have inclinations to disrupt today’s fragile peace.
A number of Liberia’s transitional justice issues, of course, can still be addressed by other means, notably the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that was provided for in the Accra agreement. If there are to be prosecutions of the most serious war crimes, however, the Security Council, including the U.S., will probably need to decide between cooperation with the ICC - which ICG regards as the most appropriate and feasible course of action - and undertaking the costly and time consuming construction of a new special court or international tribunal.
Charles Taylor’s departure has brought hope that genuine peace can come to Liberia. The first step is to establish security throughout the country. Construction or reconstruction can then follow, as ICG will discuss in a subsequent report. Reducing the expectations of former rebels who want compensation for helping to remove Charles Taylor will be an immediate task for UNMIL. Establishing the legitimacy of the transitional government will also prove difficult. Not all the fighters respect it. It is, as one LURD insider said, "operating from a position of incredible disadvantage". The same person noted that "there will be confusion and quarrelling in the first 100 days of the transition because expectation is high, yet resources are not available".
Gyude Bryant’s only protector in this period will be UNMIL, which must rapidly bring in international expertise to help reform Liberia’s crumbled institutions and attract Liberian technocrats, many of whom kept a low profile under Charles Taylor or lived overseas, notably in the U.S.
"We cannot be timid and handicap ourselves from the outset of this enterprise, as we did in Sierra Leone", SGSR Klein rightly says. However, UNMIL’s task is all the more difficult since its own financing is fragile. Klein estimates that he needs U.S.$280 million: "three days of money for Iraq I can use to rebuild Liberia". A successful outcome at the donors conference, expected to be held in December 2003, is urgently required. Given its historical connections with Liberia, the U.S. must ensure that the funds authorised by its Congress are quickly disbursed if other countries are also to make meaningful contributions. As former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Walter Kansteiner, noted, "the international donor community will respond to Liberia adequately only if the United States help Liberia".
Of course, the country’s political future will ultimately be shaped by Liberians themselves, but to have even a chance of this they will need consistent international political commitment, as well as the financing to support a large UN peacekeeping mission. There will almost certainly not be another chance to rebuild a functioning state in Liberia. One of the few middle class Liberians summed up to ICG, "If we and the international community do not make it work this time round, then basically people like me will have to leave". Unless UNMIL is properly supported, the country may well lapse into a permanent state of semi-peace/semi-war that will continue to destabilise West Africa.