LURD Disputes Government Claims in Lofa
August 31, 2000

A spokesman for Liberian dissident group known as Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), now battling Government troops in northern Lofa County, has disputed BBC reports claiming Government troops were in the town of Kolahun, close to the county headquarters of Voinjama now under dissident control.

"As I speak to you now, our men are cooking and dancing in Kolahun. I have just returned from there," the spokesman, a Colonel Tom Jeyee, claimed from an African city.

The BBC's stringer in Liberia reported Wednesday that he and others had been flown to Kolahun, and that they were awaiting to be airlifted to the scene of fighting in Voinjama. But he said until the filing of his report Wednesday, the helicopter had not arrived. Monrovia's highly censored press also reported that some journalists were carefully selected and flown to Lofa County. The BBC stringer said he was reporting via a satellite phone from Kolahun, which he said was deserted. He said from some indications, the town of Zorzor towards Monrovia, which LURD claimed this week to have captured, was still under Government control. But LURD spokesman said Zorzor was firmly under their control with plans to advance and escalate the war. "How can you decide to take Voinjama by flying troops in Kolahun when Zorzor is under your control? It's easier to advance from Zorzor on Voinjama. Maybe they are relying on the RUF to come from Sierra Leone and hit us in Kolahun because Kolahun is closer to the Sierra Leone border. But we are in charge of Foya also. We are in Zorzor and Taylor is lying," the LURD officer claimed.

The outbreak of fighting after the end of seven-year brutal civil war, which resulted in the killing 250,000 people, has been characterized by claims and counterclaims on both sides. The Government first claimed to have dislodged the dissidents from Voinjama, but President Charles Taylor later admitted the town had fallen, and that the fighting was "serious." He then issued a 72-hour ultimatum to his troops "to flush out" the dissidents, but the directive expired without any progress. The Army's top commanders were then ordered investigated for allegedly misleading the President on the war and for failing to take faster actions against the dissidents. The current commander of Government troops is the deputy head of the presidential security force, the Special Security Service (SSS), one of the president's trusted fighters who ordered the arrest of opposition politician Samuel Dokie, his wife and two others later found mutilated and burnt beyond recognition. His command of the troops indicates that the Army has been sidelined in the military campaign. There are unconfirmed reports that the Minister of Defense is also held suspect, and has not been heard commenting on the war for weeks, something unusual in how the Government runs.

Hundreds of wounded government troops are said to be overcrowding available hospitals in the city as beds become unavailable to meet increasing demands of the Army. A group of wounded soldiers went on a rampage in one of the hospitals, flogging doctors and nurses with claims of being ignored.