Can Mano River Union Countries Achieve Peace?

The Perspective

August 30, 2001

Peace initiatives and agreements seem to never be in short supply in the West African region, especially among the Manor River Union (MRU) countries - comprising Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - which have been embroiled in crisis for well over a decade. The problem with the peace agreements is that just as they are signed, they are broken, by either one party or the other never upholds them or simply finds them as a convenient tool to regroup or a breather for removing pressure. This has been the case with Mr. Taylor who has signed over a dozen agreements, none of which he has ever abided by.

Now, once again, Foreign Ministers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone met recently in Freetown to deliberate on finding ways that could bring an end to the ongoing dispute that has basically immobilized these countries from engaging in any constructive development, due to the raging wars with rebels and dissidents who draw their support from each of these countries.

Countries in the region have accused each other of sponsoring rebel activities or carrying out cross border attacks. Guinea has accused Liberia of sponsoring rebels fighting the Guinean government, while Liberia in turn accused Guinea of supporting the dissidents, primarily the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), who are trying to remove the Liberian ruler - Charles Taylor. Sierra Leone has accused Liberia of sponsoring the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

In the case of Liberia, the United Nations found overwhelming evidence of the Taylor regime support for the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, and has imposed sanctions on that country since May 7 of this year. The sanctions include a ban on diamond exports, an arms embargo, ant travel restrictions on government officials.

According to reports, the meeting in Freetown resulted in some key decisions which the ministers were to recommend to their respective Heads of State for their approval. Some of the recommendations that the three countries agreed upon included: the apprehension of armed groups involved in clashes along the borders; returning armed dissidents operating on their territory to their country of origin; and deploying a joint patrol to monitor their borders.

These recommendations in themselves are good starter, but the real test would be the political will needed to enforce such a plan or agreement that would be formulated. But, if history is any guide, similar agreements in the past have been marked by suspicion and deceit.

Many are wondering why these West Africans believe that Charles Taylor will abide by this agreement. Though the UN sanctions (which include arms embargo) were imposed on Liberia for Charles Taylor to cease his support to the RUF, there are reports that the Liberian ruler is still importing arms and supporting the RUF rebels. Recently, Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness, made the following comments to The Perspective regarding this issue:

"We do have information relating to one particular shipment that came in by sea in May and after the imposition of sanction ( that was the 10th of May, three days after UN sanctions were imposed on Liberia) into the Harper port [Maryland County, Liberia] . And that ship was subsequently loaded with logs and exported. We've got a few reports of other ships, we don't know what [were] on them, but they've been treated very differently than other ships - they are being unloaded under tight security

"We haven't heard any report either way of whether arms are still going to the rebels in Sierra Leone. What we have heard in about quite specific information on this is the continued maintenance of RUF forces in Liberia. We have the names of RUF leaders, cartels and delegations in Liberia. And they are certainly maintaining their armed presence."

Meanwhile, as the United Nations nudges these countries towards peace, Taylor supporters in Liberia are reported to be engaged in a lobbying effort with the rubberstamp Liberian legislature to enact a law abolishing the celebration of United Nations Day in Liberia.

According to the Poll Watch, "A movement of several Liberians headed by Ambassador-at-Large-John T. Richardson, soliciting 10,000 names to be submitted to the National Legislature to stop the celebration of United Nations Day in Liberia, until at such time the recent sanctions imposed by that body can be lifted."

Mr. Richardson, known as Mr. Octopus, is one of those who spearheaded the destruction and atrocities during the Liberian civil war. It can be recalled that in a May 12, 1994 radio message reportedly intercepted by ECOMOG, a retreating NPFL official, John T. Richardson, is said to have told warlord Charles Taylor that "specific instructions went out from us to raze to the ground Dolo Town, Peter Town.... Even where there are any little girls, they should be raped, so there is going to be some terror in that area today because everybody was worried about the refugees and we said to hell with them." And these "specific instructions" were implemented to the letter: villages were ransacked, women were abused.

Mr. John T. Richardson is also credited to have organized the 1992 bloody war on Monrovia code-named Octopus, which resulted into the death of thousands of hapless civilians when Taylor attempted to seize Monrovia to declare himself President.

In another development, President Taylor has threatened to impose a state of emergency, arguing that Liberia is faced with "clear and present danger," which warrants such action.

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