LURD's "Revised Press Release" - A Joke at People's Expense
By Theodore T. Hodge
On Friday, June 13th, a flimsy and obviously hastily prepared document was issued by the LURD Secretariat titled "Revised Press Release". At first glance it reads like a joke from a horror movie, appropriately timed to coincide with Friday, the 13th. Upon further examination, one realizes that such a crude joke, played at the expense of Liberians is dangerous and unfunny. This self-styled "liberation" army must not be allowed to complicate our lives any further.
The subject of the so-called press release is: "LURD To Protect Civilian". What civilian? After killing, demoralizing, torturing, maiming and displacing tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of civilians, now the organization is pledging to protect civilians?
Under its projected humanitarian policy, the organization (LURD) claims to "recognize the importance of upholding, promoting, and protecting the human rights of every Liberian as well as the enforcement of humanitarian law..." Really? One may be tempted to ask, when did they begin to "uphold, promote and protect human rights"?
They call for the immediate release of political prisoners and non-combatants held by the Taylor-led government. Do they hold any prisoners as well? Are they willing to account for civilian casualties caused by them?
The press release elaborates LURD's position on refugees and displaced persons and their safety. The organization also requests "appropriate international assistance" and will guarantee safe and unhindered access by all humanitarian organizations. The question that comes to mind is, why does the need exist now for a separate elaboration of these positions outside of the Akasombo Conference? Shouldn't these positions be presented, discussed and debated at the on-going peace conference?
If they are, as I hope, why the further need to create this new avenue for discussion? Is this simply a case of badly needed self promotion?
Again one wonders why the sudden shift in ideology and method. When did all of these mechanisms become relevant to the way the organization operates? Is it not the same organization that acted with total disregard for international and humanitarian law in the past?
It is a matter of public record that this same organization endangered the lives of humanitarian workers time and time again. As a matter of fact, it still remains unclear who ambushed and killed international relief workers in Toe Town, Grand Gedeh County. Three volunteers (Kaare Lund, a Norwegian worker of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and two Liberian ADRA workers, Emmanuel Sharpolu and Musa Kieta) and other civilians were killed - many believe it was LURD. The organization's inability or lack of desire to respond to the charges appropriately and timely propounded its guilt.
The Liberian public was also shocked when during an interview with COPLA, a web magazine, General Joe Wylie, LURD's Chief Military Advisor admitted guilt about the abduction and rape of nurses who were also relief workers. This is what he said: "I find the confessions of the Merci nurses credible and I sincerely condemn such criminal act. I also take this opportunity, on behalf of LURD's national executive council, to express our regret about the inhumane treatment of the five nurses right under the nose of Mr. Secou Conneh, who was in contact with those traveling with the nurses. Worse still, when the nurses arrived in Voinjama and reported the case to Mr. Conneh, no immediate action was taken to bring the culprits to justice..."
Not surprisingly, LURD hurriedly issued a press release disassociating itself from the remarks made by Joe Wylie. Among other things, it said, "that the said Joe Wylie is NOT a genuine and official representative/conduit of LURD in the United States and Europe."
Now, all of a sudden, Joe Wylie has joined ranks with the hierarchy of LURD at the Ghanaian peace conference. Is he a genuine official or not? Does he still feel that Chairman Secou Conneh is culpable in the heinous crime of rape as he alleged? Is this a convenient attempt for these leopards to change their spots by "requesting appropriate international humanitarian assistance"? Some of us are still interested in the answers to these questions.
Also of interest to us is the alleged frictional relationship between Commander Sekou Conneh and the National Executive Committee. At one point a press release issued by the LURD Secretariat under the directive of Mr. Conneh informed us that Mr. Tarty Teh, a US-based spokesman for the organization had been relieved of his position. But in April of the current year, after General Joe Wylie had had a public falling out with the leader, Mr. Tarty Teh jumped to his defense and became harshly critical of Mr. Conneh.
In a press release issued by Mr. Tarty Teh and titled: "Changing Gears at LURD: Chairman Conneh to be Replaced Soon", Mr. Teh left no doubt in conveying the impression that confusion and disunity were replete within the highest echelon of LURD. This is what he wrote: "Mr. Conneh has been able to jail, harass, and humiliate members of the NEC in contravention of LURD's own internal charter, to say nothing of the human and constitutional rights of the persons who continue to suffer his unprovoked wrath".
Mr. Teh named the following people whom he said were languishing in prison illegally: Mr. Ahmed "Jallo" Bah, Mr. Paulson Garteh, and Mr. Sampson Guein among others. But more importantly, Mr. Teh expressed dissatisfaction over the handling of the case of the Merci Nurses who were allegedly raped while being detained by LURD. Again this is what Mr. Teh had to say: "Although many members of LURD's National Executive Committee were shocked by both the women's revelation and Mr. Conneh's handling of it, there were telltale signs that Mr. Conneh was morally loose..."
Continuing, he said, "Therefore, the advance planning committee agreed, through a vote, about the need to replace the current Chairman of LURD, Mr. Sekou Conneh. The next chairman will be elected at the next conference in Africa in May, 2003."
Is the public to believe that because an official invitation was extended to LURD, its so-called National Executive Committee decided to overlook the immense constitutional crises the organization faced just to sit at the negotiating table and plan Liberia's future? What kind of credibility does this organization have, after all? This is not to advocate that LURD should not be at the peace conference but it will be foolhardy for them to try to bargain for the entire pie; they need to solve their own problems first. Mr. Conneh should be answering the charges brought against him by Messrs Joe Wylie and Tarty Teh while they are all in Ghana.
Within the last two weeks we have heard and read about LURD's total disregard for the civilians of Monrovia - creating the crisis of population displacement which may eventually lead to the outbreak of diseases. Let's be objective, the present mayhem in Monrovia must not be totally blamed on government forces, LURD bears a huge responsibility - probably more.
Now, LURD further tells us that "in furtherance of our commitment and pledge to alleviate the deplorable plight of the people... the corridors from Monrovia to Tubmanburg, Robertsport and Bo-Water Side are opened for free passage with maximum protection; the Gbarnga axis to Zorzor and Voinjama are also opened for free passage of civilians without molestation, intimidation and harassment..." That's good news, but do you blame the Liberian people who remain skeptical given what has transpired under their leadership?
I am of the opinion that this is a clever ploy to lure international finance into their care for injudicious use at the expense of the Liberian people once again. If the Liberian people will sit supinely and let them get away with such a scheme, it will be a shame.
My suggestion is that they stop their violence against the Liberian people, negotiate in true faith in Ghana, sign and adhere to a ceasefire agreement, and get out of the way along with Charles Taylor and his bunch. It is time that all those criminals with their dangerous weapons left the Liberian people alone to start all over again.
It is absolutely pathetic that this ragtag army has the audacity and the pomposity to assume that within a short while it will be in control of our country. How dare they be so presumptuous? When Charles Taylor leaves the presidency and his government is duly deposed, we advocate a new civilian team to form a government advocating democracy for all - nothing less will suffice.