Misinformation, Sanctions & Bedfellows

By Tom Kamara

The Perspective
February 6, 2001

As tens of thousands Sierra Leoneans, with hacked limbs await the result of the United Nations Security Council verdict on whether Liberia deserves a pat on the back or punishment for subjecting them to a decade of unimagined horrors, there is an orchestrated campaign of misinformation on the momentum for or against sanctions, with Liberia intensifying its claims of being unjustly "demonised", while painting a picture of divided Western powers opposed to sanctions and buying its wisdom.

"We feel Liberia is being demonisedI don't think punitive sanctions should be the first response On the issue of diamonds, the Government of Liberia can neither deny nor confirm that the war in Sierra Leone is financed by the sale of conflict diamonds. What (I) can confirm is that it is not connected, nor is it a party to the illicit trade of Sierra Leone diamondsWhat I believe is that the U.N. should say, `Liberia, you've said you are willing to cooperate ... let us take you up on that You have the option of last resort to impose sanctionsWe believe this matter is far more complicated than people assume it to be, and we believe there has to be far more of an objective investigation into what has happenedIf we are involved in violating the sanctions, why would we want verification? Why would we want monitoring?" the Syrian-Liberian foreign minister Monie Captan asked in delivering a 150-page dossier to some council members contradicting the panel's report line by line.

"Why would we want monitoring? Why would we want verification?" Because "verification" is a messy procedure when dealing with criminals. Because it is a difficult and expensive venture. Because Monitoring only works if national leaders want it to work. Because monitoring a determined gang of international criminal operators with the backing of a criminal government is a nightmare. Because monitoring requires money, logistics, and no one sensible enough has such money to waste while pouring refugees wait to be fed. And primarily, because Captan and Taylor know that no international entity is capable of monitoring Liberia. The League of Nations, which charged the country of selling its citizens into slavery, failed. US attempts to monitor agreed upon government expenditure in a regime that Taylor served as a top official, the Samuel Doe junta, failed with the Liberians burning documents the Americans needed to act. Paralysed, they left in frustration. So ask for "monitoring" knowing that it would not be delivered. Then claim to be doing all you can to cooperate with the international community in the interest of the "ordinary people" of Liberia.

But the fact is that Liberia's battle against sanctions is not tied to the fate of its "ordinary people." The government is simply using the population as a human shield against sanctions, just as Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia(NPFL) did throughout the 7-year war. Hold the people hostage and they will see logic to leave alone. This has been, and is the current wisdom, in Liberia. The fear and truth is that sanctions will make "business" more expensive, deprive the regime the conduit of timber operations and export for diamonds and arms imports and perhaps quicken the departure of mercenaries and foreign military advisors since their operations will now be under watchful UN eyes.

Wisdom nevertheless prevailed against Captan's prescriptions, since "Council members did not seem swayed by (his) assertions that Liberia had disengaged itself from the Sierra Leone conflict", The New York Times reported.

Asked Sierra Leone's UN ambassador Ibrahim Kamara: "How long should the identities of those directly and actively involved in blood-diamond and illicit-arms transactions across our borders be concealed under the cloak of African brotherhood?"

Well, judging by how the regional organization, ECOWAS, promising peacekeeping forces to solve Sierra Leone's problems, is ganging up behind the Liberians, the answer is as long as the diamonds are available; as long as foreign mercenaries are prepared to train more rebels, defend the diamond creeks; as long as drugged child soldiers are abundant as members of the Revolutionary United Front. West Africa has put its diplomacy in full swing behind the Liberians because political leaders in the region stand indicted for ongoing terror against the civilian population. The UN Panel says:

"The panel received information on the presence of Ukrainian, Burkinabe, Nigérien, Lybian and South African nationals in Liberia for training purposes. The training was given to non-Liberian nationals for deployment in RUF-territory in Sierra Leone, and for action in recent clashes on the Guinea border. Early in 1999, a significant improvement of tactics and use of weapons by the RUF rebels was noted in Sierra Leone. It was more than a coincidence that this happened immediately after foreigners started training these elements in Liberia.

"The Panel has found conclusive evidence of supply lines to the RUF through Burkina Faso, Niger and Liberia. Weapons supplied to these countries by governments or private arms merchants have been diverted for use in the conflict in Sierra Leonen. Cote d'Ivoire, under previous administrations, was sympathetic to the Liberia government and, indirectly, to the RUF in Sierra Leone. The Ivorian relationship dates back to the training of RUF and Liberian rebels in Cote d'Ivoire in the early 1990s".

Therefore, can anyone blame regional politicians for smelling the rat and lining up to defend one of their kinds - Taylor? One of the countries named in the UN report, The Gambia, says: "Is there a hidden agenda to mount a smear campaign against The Gambia?" Its UN ambassador Baboucarr-Blaise Jagne, said he was "flabbergasted" by "malicious allegations" in a searing report commissioned by the council. "What is the motive behind these baseless allegations?" he asked the U.N Security Council members.

Guinea, also implicated in the illicit diamond trade and fighting to survive under waves of attacks from the RUF and NPFL elements, understandably backed the report and said Liberia had pursued a "policy of terrorism" for years.

The fact is that with Conakry crumbling, the diamond smugglers have simply moved their operational offices elsewhere within the region, including The Gambia. These diamond smugglers operate under the covers of "legitimacy", sometimes opening gas stations shops as conduits. Even before Taylor extended his tentacles to Guinea, many left Conakry and moved to next-door states within easy reach of Sierra Leone diamond fields.

But ECOWAS' Secretary-General, Lansana Kouyateh, sees Western conspiracy in the conclusion that without dealing with the source of the problem, Sierra Leone, and many West African states will crumble. Thus he promised Taylor in Monrovia recently that West Africa was firmly with him in his cause, and that a team, including Mali's Alpha Konare, was due in New York to tell the UN of the "absurdity" of the allegations against Liberia.

Another fascinating twist in the crusade against sanctions is the oiling of Monrovia's pathetic misinformation engine. Reports from the derelict, dark capital founded by freed American slaves in 1822, where everything gallant "knight" has been mobilized to ensure the defeat of sanctions, paint a divided UN with both the US and Britain announced as opponents of sanctions.

Taylor's private media establishment, quoted by the BBC, claimed recently that the British have informed him of their opposition to sanctions. This was followed by reports in one Monrovia's self-censored newspapers quoting US Secretary of State Colin Powell as opposing sanctions. The paper said Powell has rebuked the US for insisting on sanctions against states that oppose its foreign policy, in this case including Liberia. The President's private station also quoted the French ambassador to Liberia as saying France opposed sanctions against Liberia because of their "negative affects" on the population.

From UN Security Council sources however, there emerges a completely different picture. While we are told that France's Liberia ambassador is opposed to the sanctions, Paris' UN ambassador Jean-David Levitte, told the 15-member body that, "Too many promises have been made in the past for us to settle for mere oratory" from the Liberian government.

Although Taylor's radio reported that the British, the principal sponsors of sanctions, were now opposed to them, the UK UN Ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, disclosed Taylor's continued military support to the RUF. He said, Taylor "is giving direct military support encouraging attacks against UNAMSIL and Sierra Leone government forces, providing strategic direction, influencing decisions on leadership and on command and on control."
US Secretary of State Powell's alleged statement, quoted by Taylor's private radio as opposing sanctions, is contradicted by US UN ambassador James Cunningham:

"But we are concerned that these last minute announcements, in the face of imminent council action, are a calculated ruse designed to divide the Security Council rather than to signal any genuine change of policy. The steps announced thus far are unconvincing and not sufficient. Regrettably, we are forced to support new measures against the government of Liberia because of its illegal support for insurgents in Sierra Leone, its use of one of the world's most repugnant insurgencies as a proxy, its illegal exploitation of the natural wealth of Sierra Leone and its promotion of instability in the region."

Despite this picture of disunity portrayed in Monrovia, reports indicated sanctions received some support from Ireland, Norway, Colombia, Mauritius, Singapore and Bangladesh, whose ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury commissioned the report. "The report should not get a proverbial place on some shelf gathering dust," Chowdhury said.

Regardless of the deception orchestrated by West African politicians, there are increasing calls for sanctions, backed by mounting evidence: Says the environmental and human rights organization Global Witness, which has demanded sanctions:

"The scale of this completely unsustainable timber trade is such that Liberia's forests are likely to be commercially logged out in as little as thirteen years. One Lebanese company told Global Witness that they expected to operate in the country for another 20 years before they had removed all merchantable timber, but OTC's operations are escalating this timescale. What is sure is that there is virtually no forest management and no known cases of replanting. The social, economic and ecological impacts of this trade have severe long-term implications for the future of Liberia and its peopleRevenue from this industry is also the main source of funds for President Charles Taylor's security forces; some of which have reportedly been helping the RUF in Sierra Leone and in Guinea.

"There are four ports in Liberia: Monrovia, Buchanan, Greenville and Cape Palmas also commonly known as Harper port. These are used to export timber and other commodities. According to several sources, extensive illegal activity is conducted from these ports, particularly Buchanan port. However, a source in the Liberian timber industry has also stated that a new method of loading cargo from beaches exists without the need for port facilities".

Whatever Taylor's protégés may say, whatever deceptions they circulate, not applying sanctions will be a vindication of their terror campaign against innocent children and people they have so insensitively continued to deny.

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