When "Terrorists" Refuse to Negotiate with "Terrorists" (Editorial)
Sept 5, 2000

Unfolding events in Liberia are again assuming dreadful and strange proportions. About a decade ago, President Samuel Doe, besieged by rebel leader Charles Taylor's marauding rebels, vowed he would never negotiate with a "terrorist" and a "rogue," meaning Taylor, his former purchasing agent who absconded to the US with allegedly almost one million dollars, returning only at the head of a private rebel group to seize power. But Taylor, at the height of his glory as commander-in-chief of his private army in quest of power, declared that the "only good Doe was a dead Doe", thus indicating he wanted Doe's presidency by all means, at all costs. Both Taylor and Doe kept their words. Doe was captured, mutilated, and dumped in an unknown grave. Taylor got the job, but not until 250,000 people were killed and the entire country destroyed.

Now, history is back where it was in December 1989. As he sits in President Doe's seat, Taylor has vowed never to negotiate with dissidents of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) who have picked up the contest for power from where Taylor left. But Taylor, who signed 13 peace agreements and reneged on all since they did not offer him clear prospects for his presidency, now finds himself where Doe was 10 years ago. Taylor's statement is so confusing that he appears to be alluding to his own destructive campaign for power:

"If you plan against the state to cause the destruction of lives and property against everyone, the due process of law is the means of reconciliation."

It is useful to remind Taylor that he carries the burden of Liberia's destruction, or that his very presence and control of Liberia and its resources are painful reminders of the indelible scars of horror and poverty he left on many Liberians.

We understand the narrow nature of the room for negotiation. LURD, too, is saying the only good Taylor is a dead Taylor. They have repeatedly demanded his exit from the country as a precondition for ending their military campaign. They have enumerated the same charges Taylor levied against Doe---human rights abuses, tyranny, theft of public funds, etc.

We find the impasse troubling. Late President Doe's refusal to acknowledge Taylor's political claims led to the killing of 250,000 innocent Liberians and foreigners caught in the ruthless web of atrocities for power and wealth. The intransigence of both men led to the total destruction of the country that is now desperately begging for outside help for basic needs like safe-drinking water, electricity, etc.

We are troubled over President Taylor's position because the past three years have shown that it is easier, far more convenient to wage a war than to reconstruct and heal the painful wounds of its victims. The promise of democracy and prosperity, for which the war was waged, has ended in attaching intractable clutches of tyranny on a people too weak to resist. Instead of respectability to replace the disgrace under the Doe military junta, Liberia has gained a place as Africa's number one pariah state. The name Charles Taylor is now tied to child soldiers, amputations, diamond theft, backing of external rebels such as Sierra Leone RUF, etc. Hundreds of Liberians are languishing in jail for questionable crimes. Summary executions, arrests and detentions have become common. Hundreds of thousands of Liberians prefer the horrible life in refugee camps around Africa than to live under the rule of their "democratically elected government."

In marathon treason trials since Taylor became President another batch of about 20 prominent Liberians have been indicted on the superfluous charge of treason, while a sound blueprint for reconciliation is lacking, and replaced by the empty fanfare of declaring a "reconciliation month." Freedom of speech and of the press has been so curtailed that self-censorship has become institutionalized within the media. The case of the 4 journalists arrested on bogus spying charges, and then released after international condemnation, points to how horrible the situation of the media has become.

The misuse of public funds has become official policy, with the President spending of US$100, 000 to woo 3,000 demonstrators against US-British sanctions in opposition to his RUF backing. Liberia has become a despicable assembly line for the production of rebels. Summary executions are prevalent, and up till now, the murderers of the Dokies, Madam Nowai Flomo, etc., are at large, the Government says. The promised autopsy report of the Vice President's mysterious death cannot be released, confirming claims that the man was indeed flogged to near-death upon the President's orders. In less than 3 years, the promised democracy has turned into a nightmare of fear and deprivation.

We note President Taylor's declaration that Liberians wishing to return home must first renounce violence. But the President must be reminded that violence breeds violence. Samuel Dokie renounced violence, but he and his family were brutally murdered. Madam Nowai Flomo was a peaceful pro-democracy activist, but she was hauled from her home at night and executed. The 300 Krahn civilians butchered by Taylor's security were non-violent, but this did not spare them. The list of summary killings since the election is simply infinite.

A terrorist may have reasons not to negotiate with another terrorist because they share the same values and pursue identical objectives. But in the case of troubled and destroyed Liberia, all the terrorists in the current conflict must see reason to negotiate and save the country from further destruction. The ghost of Samuel Doe is indeed lingering in search of vengeance.

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