"Taylor is Losing Ground,"
May 14, 2001
Editor's Note: Claims and counter claims are not in short supply in the lofa war between dissident and government forces. The claims and counter claims cannot be confirmed due to the Liberian government ban on independent coverage of the war. On Friday, May 11, 2001, J. Wehtee Wion (Director of New York based Liberian African News Service, LANS) conducted a satellite telephone interview with Mr. William Nihison, senior political advisor and spokesman of LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) - organization that is waging a fierce war in the north of Liberia to oust Liberian President Charles Taylor from power. Below is the full text of the interview:
J. Wehtee Wion: Will you give us [Liberians in North America] an update on the fighting between LURD and government forces?
Mr. William Nihison: As we have repeatedly said to our
people that we are only going to have Charles Taylor arrested
to prosecute him for war and economic crimes. And as I speak to
you now, Bong County is being fought over and is divided between
our forces and Taylor's bandits. We have the whole of Lofa County
under our control...all six political districts in Lofa are under
our full control. And we are making sure that the civilian population
under our control enjoys peace and security. We also have our
men in upper Cape Mount County as well as in Nimba County. Our
fighters are now penetrating deep into the Suehn Mission area
by way of Todee and Gbartala in Bong County. We are
targeting the triangular terrain that covers Bong, Bomi and Montserrado Counties with our Company C fighters. They are awaiting special instructions from our central military command to begin a full-scale aggression on Monrovia. What we are trying to do is to make sure that we avoid fighting in counties where our forces encounter no resistance. We are not going for anyone but Taylor and his close associates of cronies.
J. Wehtee Wion: War is both propaganda and military science. In Liberia, the government has put a lid on the press. Every story that has to do with the current fighting must be cleared by the Ministry of Information. In the midst of claims and counter-claims by both government and LURD forces, we don't know who is telling the truth. From your perspective, give us a clear picture of who is actually in control of Zorzor and other nearby towns.
Mr. William Nihison: As I speak to you now, we have our men positioned throughout the entire country. As I said, the entire Lofa and Gbopolu Counties are under the full control of LURD forces. This fellow [Taylor] is a liar and he will continue to lie to the Liberian people until we get to him. He continues to suppress the press and he has made some headways in bribing some people of influence who are associated BBC's Focus On Africa program. This is why our people don't get the actual picture and message of our struggle. We have not taken Monrovia simply because we want to minimize civilian casualties. Taking Gbarnga is no problem to us. We decided to by-pass Gbarnga so as to allow civilians who want to use that major highway to do so. We are therefore targeting the Suehn Mission area to lay the groundworks for our final push to take him down. Taylor is losing ground gradually and he is therefore paranoid and that is the truth of the matter.
J. Wehtee Wion: A BBC report by Mark Doyle from Monrovia and aired Thursday, May 10, quoted a government medical doctor, Walter Gwenigali as saying that he and other doctors have treated and are caring for hundreds of wounded government soldiers in scattered medical centers. Give us an idea if LURD has dealt any blows in terms of casualties on government soldiers.
Mr. William Nihison: Yes, unfortunately, we have killed
hundreds of our own people who are being misled by this guy [Taylor]
and we are sorry about that. Taylor is forcibly drafting our unwilling
young men to go and die for him but Taylor doesn't care and he
is not telling the Liberian people how we are killing his fighters
in the hundreds. That is why he wants the press to toe his line.
We are openly inviting the independent press and the International
Red Cross to come into areas under LURD's control to verify what
we are saying and to speak to the civilians who continue to seek
refuge in territory under our
J. Wehtee Wion: So, how do you get the independent press and the Red Cross to visit you and verify your claims?
Mr. William Nihison: We will gladly receive and protect anyone or group that wishes to visit LURD controlled areas. They may want to contact friendly governments, namely, the Ivory Coast and Guinea, that share common border with counties under our control. As a matter of fact, we are about to set up a civil administration in our controlled areas.
J. Wehtee Wion: Liberia formally closed its border with Sierra Leone and expelled the ambassadors of Sierra Leone and Guinea accredited to Liberia. But then last week, the authorities in Freetown announced that four top Liberian military officers had been arrested inside Sierra Leone. The four who include a colonel, a major and two captains, from your point of view, are they run-always, spies or RUF collaborators even though one of them claimed that they were sent by the Commanding Officer of the Liberian Army, Gen. John Tarnue to retrieve a vehicle?
Mr. William Nihison: Based on our intelligence, the
Liberians captured in Sierra Leone were on a double mission:
a) to consolidate Taylor's ties with the RUF rebels
b) to attack LURD forces, but we are prepared for any eventuality and will repel any aggressors.
J. Wehtee Wion: There is panic in Monrovia now as we speak to a point where the government of Taylor has placed travel restrictions and an 8:30 nightly curfew on foreign diplomats and residents while at the same time erecting roadblocks/checkpoints throughout greater Monrovia. What is your take on this?
Mr. William Nihison: Too little, too late for Taylor. We've already established our presence in Monrovia and even within Taylor's own security and military establishments and to include his cabinet. We are warning Taylor to leave innocent citizens and foreigners alone. And in particular, Taylor must leave journalists and the students at the University of Liberia alone or else, he and his senior officials and military officers will be held accountable and we mean it. The university students are in no way connected with LURD and Taylor's Justice Minister E. Varmah needs to take note. Any attempt to crack down on these groups will leave us no choice but to energize us and intensify our fight to end the suffering of the Liberian people under Taylor.
J. Wehtee Wion: The May 14, 2001 edition of Newsweek magazine highlights the pitfalls of Samuel Doe and now Charles Taylor in the areas of human rights, press freedom and democracy. Why must Liberians now believe that the leadership of LURD would be any different from Doe and Taylor if you succeed in ousting Taylor?
Mr. William Nihison: We in LURD are a new breed of Liberians brought together by a common purpose under an agreed code of conduct with the goals and objectives defined. We have put into place guidelines under which we operate...all of us in LURD. We are not power-hungry Mongols like Taylor and Doe. Mechanisms have been devised to deal with problems of tribalism and other vices. We are not interested in holding on to power. We want to be remembered as the group that brought freedom and democracy to all Liberians regardless of tribal origin and we are very mindful of that.
J. Wehtee Wion: If not asking too much of you, are you at liberty to tell my listeners where in Liberia are you speaking from now for this interview?
Mr. William Nihison: I am in Fazima, Lofa County and will be heading to Zorzor right after this interview along with one of LURD's senior advisors, Isaac Nyanebo to consult with our frontline commanders there.
J. Wehtee Wion: Usually when a dissident group is battling a sitting dictator, what they promise is just what they want the people to hear and then when the get in power, they all sing the same old song. Will any LURD member contest any presidential elections following immediately the end of the Taylor era if you succeed in removing Taylor from power?
Mr. William Nihison: I and LURD want to assure the Liberian people that it will NEVER happen because to do so would mean to go against everything LURD stands for. LURD is NOT and will NOT become a political party tomorrow and we are not fighting to make any individual president of Liberia. The Liberian people will decide who they want as president. Our task is to see to it that we create the necessary political atmosphere for those who are not TAINTED in anyway to contest any presidential elections after we overthrow Taylor. We told our people in LURD that anyone who harbors presidential ambition should leave and wait till the elections following Taylor's downfall.
J. Wehtee Wion: Thanks very much for your time and we look forward to talking with you again.