Taylor's Gimmick to Stop UN Threatened Sanctions

The Perspective
January 15, 2001

Finally, the Liberian Government has conceded its destructive engagement in Sierra Leone's ongoing war by announcing that one of that country's ruthless rebel commanders, Sam Bockarie, has left Liberia. Nevertheless, Boackarie, who reportedly executed eight of his field commanders before fleeing into the safety of Charles Taylor's Liberia, has announced that he is still in Monrovia under Taylor's protection awaiting clarifications for his departure. The confusion indicates that the Liberian regime is up to its usual games of deception and intrigues, which have served it so well over the years. It is time to disappoint these diamond warlords by punishing them with sanctions as recommended by the UN Panel of Experts. To believe their promises and pronouncements is to condemn the children of Sierra Leone and others to continued misery.

The misleading signals out of chaotic Monrovia are aimed at solidifying Taylor's support for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) which Bockarie commanded during the 1999 Freetown invasion that left over 6000 people killed as one of his most memorable "achievements". By announcing that the Sierra Leone rebel chief has left Liberia, Taylor hopes to avoid the threatened sanctions. As always, he is telling the world body what it wants to hear while preparing to do what he wants to do, and that is to keep Sierra Leone burning for its diamonds. His confidence in this strategy of terror is based on similar successful strategies he instituted both in Liberia and Sierra Leone with remarkable rewards.

We must recall that the Liberian President is a serial breaker of promises and official agreements. It took 13 peace treaties to mitigate the Liberian horrors. Some treaties he signed, in the presence of heads of states and Foreign Ministers, he later disputed. Honorable men like former US President Jimmy Carter, who believed in Taylor's promises, left regretting the confidence he had in this man with no integrity.

Although he promised the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha that he would uphold the Abuja Agreement, which paved the way for farcical elections as cover for his presidency, Taylor soon dumped the Agreement and disputed many of its provisions. Reminded by the Nigerian ECOMOG Force Commander, Victor Malu, that provisions regarding restructuring the Army and security forces were important, Taylor warned him that there was only one President in Liberia. The usefulness of his Nigerian allies was over. Not even Bill Clinton nor the European Community, Liberia's biggest aid donor, could convince Taylor of the usefulness of ECOMOG as a postwar guarantor of peace. Frustrated, the Commander left Liberia warning that Taylor's failure to address the reconstitution of the country's shattered security forces was a timed bomb.

Yearning for international largesse for the looted and crumbled economy, he gathered some willing and believing international observers and diplomats to "burn" all weapons collected from rebel factions during the disarmament period. During this charade, weapons burnt were mostly non-operational weapons that the Liberian government had no use for. The unburnt weapons are now used by the Liberian security apparatus, while some are believed to have been sent to the RUF. Despite the fact that he has abundant weaponry at his disposal, Taylor (as detailed in the UN Panel report) stepped up the importation of arms into Liberia for the RUF and now Guinea operations. With several seaports and eager international arms merchants, Liberia became awash with arms as Sierra and Guinea went in flames.

Following the horrors that caught world attention during his project to install the RUF and their partners, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Committee (AFRC), in power in 1999, Taylor announced he had ended his ties with the RUF. But dozens of AFRC and RUF officials and their fighters crossed over into Liberia, although, as usual, he denied their presence. When the peacekeeping force ECOMOG arrested some, he demanded their release, contending that this was a violation of Liberia's sovereignty. Many, including Bockarie and junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, lived in the safety of Taylor's household plotting their return as they left their country and people in misery. With continued supply of arms and mercenaries, and led by international military experts paid in diamonds, the rebels forced a peace deal, which surrendered to them the coveted diamond fields. Taking their cues from Liberia, the rebels seized UN troops and disarmed them. Taylor's intervention led to their release, leaving no questions as to who was the real throne behind the amputating rebels.

An impasse in Sierra Leone's peace process led to several appeasement moves geared at convincing Taylor to see logic and distant himself from the rebels. American officials, including Thomas Pickering, landed in Monrovia to warn Taylor of the disastrous effects of his intervention policies. In response, Taylor warned them not to dictate to sovereign Liberia. He was determined to keep the diamond fields and therefore his power base.

One of the last attempts at driving wisdom into Mr. Taylor's head came when 11 UN ambassadors visited Liberia to dissuade Taylor from keeping Sierra Leone burning. He promised the ambassadors that he would convince the RUF to give-up the diamond fields. But to the contrary, the rebels stepped up their demands, insisting on the release of their imprisoned leader Foday Sankoh and all others.

Liberian political, religious groups, student organizations, saw the links between the isolation of their country and their President's personal links with rebels for diamonds. In November and December, 2000, they demanded the expulsion of all RUF members, foreign military advisors, and mercenaries from the country. This was a dramatic turn of events because the Liberian Government's argument has been that there were no mercenaries in Liberia. This was far from the truth. Not only were there mercenaries and foreign military advisors and trainers in Liberia, the country had become a factory for producing rebels within the region. Finally, the UN Panel of Experts on diamonds and war in Sierra Leone, put the case to rest in its detailed report on Liberia's role in the destabilization of West Africa. The Liberian Government first reaction was described as "angry." As usual, Taylor denied the contents of this well-documented report, which called for the imposition of sanction on the Taylor regime if West Africa's decay is to be halted. Suddenly, the Government, which consistently denied links to the rebels, announced a change of policy in the hope of averting sanctions. Prior to this, to influence international public opinion, Taylor bundled hundreds of children and threw them into the streets to demonstrate against sanctions. Whether this man, who prides himself in having a "Small Boys Unit" within his marauding private rebel army for personal wealth, has reduced children to zombies in his drive for power does not matter.

We believe Taylor's claims that Bockarie (a man who refers to the Liberian President as "Chairman" of the RUF) has left Liberia when the rebel commander has denied the claim is another hoax from this diamond warlord to buy time and prepare for the final blow that will send tens of thousands innocent people to death and more terror. There are just too many RUF operatives, too many mercenaries in Liberia! making the false announcement of Bockarie's departure aimed at fooling the UN, when Bockarie is till in Monrovia, is a significant indicator of Taylor's backing of the RUF. What about the 1500 RUF rebels who were under going training at the Gbatala training camp? Liberia as a center for rebellion killing West Africa is now indisputable. The notorious Gbatala training camp, the home of Sierra Leone, Guineans and other dissidents, remains a reminder that without taking a decisive blow against those who loot their societies and others for personal wealth, the world community will, in the long run, pay a heavier price.

The international community now has Taylor on the ropes. To let him off will be a terrible mistake with a price too high to pay. Let sanctions come. The entire northern Lofa County is now RUF territory, and to believe that Bockarie will return home when his killing comrades are rejecting him is to give Taylor a longer rope to hang the sub-region. Moreover, the RUF has become Taylor's proxy army. No volumes of public pronouncements renouncing the RUF can change this. He relies on RUF regulars for his protection and as a border force. This is the reality of Taylor's RUF marriage.

The logic of sanctions against rogue states can be seen in the fact that in the absence of military action to liberate the poor, something must be done to send a clear message to tyrants and thieves that their actions are repugnant to the civilized. Not to do anything, as proposed by the OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, is to endorse the horrors waged on the helpless by local and international fortune hunters. Let sanctions be applied. Beware of Taylor's new tricks! His preoccupation is deception and this has served him well. But there must be an end, in the name of humanity.