Taylor's Sierra Leone Peace Plan: "Thanks, but No Deal"
By Tom Kamara

August 11, 2000

"Thanks, but no deal", can best describe Liberia's President Charles Taylor's response to American and British threats of sanctions for backing Sierra Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. In Taylor's latest "peace proposals" following an ultimatum from the Americans to show evidence of ending his RUF linkages, there is nothing new, only a rehash and entrenchment of old demands, excuses, and counter-accusations. The Liberian ruler is digging in, remaining defiant despite sanction threats against his collapsing economy and fragile political security. Taylor's reactions indicate how peace in one country hangs on the wishes and fears of another. "This is blackmail", says one human rights campaigner.

But more than that, the "peace proposals" reflect his paranoia about cementing his grip on power and guaranteeing his personal security in the midst of what he sees as "enemies" all around him. There is Sierra Leone. Without the RUF in power there, his sense of vulnerability and doom mounts dangerously, no matter the assurances from a weak and compromising President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah or anyone else in Freetown.

Africa Confidential: "When a dissident group approached Kabbah for financial backing against Taylor, Kabbah official reported the fact to Monrovia, to show they were serious about security cooperation. Some of the suspects were arrested and handed over, others escaped"

Then there is Guinea Conakry, always held in suspicion because it is the bigger home of the Mandingoes, one of his archenemy tribes in the power contest, but without reasons. Conakry suspects, too, that Taylor is determined to install like-minded rebels there. Says Africa Confidential:

"Liberia has been hosting the late President Ahmed Sekou Toure's son Ahmed who wants to build a rebel force to oust Conte. The respected Guinean politician Alpha Conde' is accused by Conte' of plotting dangerously with Taylor"

"The Ivory Coast can no longer be a dependable ally as it was during the war years because there are new actors, new problems, now making it a dangerous neighbour. This scenario resembles Milosivic's Yugoslavia geographically sitting between London and Washington, two archenemies. Fearing "enemies" and imagining them everywhere, Taylor is simply saying, "No way. I can't trust you. I rather die fighting and defending the RUF, my real, true allies in a region swamped with foes."

So, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering's "weeks, not months" deadline would have been unnecessary if the American had listened to our self-declared guerrilla grand patron when he lectured ECOWAS leaders in Abuja months ago that a rebel leader such as Sankoh must "operate in a natural environment", and demanded his release. Now, Taylor has fought back, slapping the Americans, British, and the UN with an unconditional rejection of their demands and claims. His prescriptions for peace in Sierra Leone contain the following key features:

1. No trial of Sankoh

2. An end to UN massive deployment

3. Withdrawal of all forces to previous positions before the UN hostage affair, and the sanctity of the Lome Agreement as the best instrument for peace in Sierra Leone, and

4. Addressing fears of his own security and political longevity as a precondition for peace in Sierra Leone.

Let's now examine these crucial points as they relate to peace in Sierra Leone if Taylor remains the dominant player.

The rejection of Sankoh's trial for war crimes, and the reasons advanced, are revealing for their clarity of objective and demands. Although it has been generally assumed by critics that his opposition to trial was a reflection of his fears of being dragged before a tribunal as an accomplice, Taylor himself now admits what Liberians say, "If you haul rope, the rope will haul the bush." With unconfirmed reports that he is included in the Sankoh indictment as an accomplice, along with tangible evidence in the hands of the Americans and the British, the Liberian President is adamant against a trial. He says:

"Also directly threatening the durability of the peace efforts of the Liberian Government and our national security is the insistence on Foday Sankoh's trial for war crimes, which will most probably jettison the hard-won Lome Peace Agreement of 1999 and return the RUF and the Sierra Leone Government to the battlefield, with a possible spill over across the Liberian border.

"On the issue of bringing to trial culprits who are suspected of derailing the peace process in Sierra Leone, Liberia believes that this move is premature. The question of trials for one party to the conflict while the country is infested with arms could be a misjudgement (sic) of the solution. If trials have to occur, then a full investigation of all parties to the conflict must be carried out in a free, fair and transparent manner following the disarmament and demobilization process. Carrying out trials of leaders of any of the warring parties while their supporters remain fully armed is not only a disincentive for cease-fire, disarmament and demobilization, but could lead to tribal, social and political backlash long after the war has ended".

What tribal "backlash"? The North, Saknoh's home region, is opposed to the war. Sankoh began his war in the East and South. If tribalism were a factor, he would not have had a base there. Unfortunately for the Liberian President, there are no Krahns and Mandingoes targeted tribes in Sierra Leone war, a factor he benefited from greatly in galvanizing aggrieved ethnic groups such as Gios and Manos to back his claims to power by instituting ethnic cleansing and regardless of the costs to the country in human and material terms. The war in Sierra Leone is non-tribal war, decidedly sustained by Liberian support and the diamond for weapons factor. It has brought in an array of international criminals to gain from the country's misery and therefore defend their diamond fiefdoms. This has made any possibility of solution bloodier and costly.

Furthermore, Taylor's demand for disarmament and demobilization before any trial is pregnant with hidden intentions and a selfish agenda. First, as experience has shown in the war, there will be no disarmament as long as the RUF controls the diamonds and Monrovia remains a base. Second, as a reward for disarmament along an uncertain and tortuous road to peace, it is all too evident that the rebels will continue to insist on more general amnesties against prosecution in return for their guns, which they will always keep to blackmail the population in acquiescing as was the case in Liberia. They did this in Lome and succeeded, thanks to Taylor and his comrade in thoughts, the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Yet, they continued the amputations, looting and other atrocities. Tactics of the Liberian war, in which 13 peace agreements were signed and dumped until the rebels were declared "democrats", are all too obvious here.

On linking Sankoh's trial to Liberia's "national security", there are several questions. What are national security implications for Liberia in a Sankoh trial? Why would the war spill over if the man stands trial?

To attempt to answer these questions, one must note the paralyzing fear of the Liberian President, fear due to the strong likelihood that facts coming out of the tribunal could link him ever more strongly to Sankoh's alleged atrocities despite his (Taylor's) mountain of denials. Otherwise, it is difficult understanding the argument of "national security" implications. Would "national security" mean tying Taylor and his clan (including his son accused of being an RUF liaison for guns and diamonds), to the crimes during the trial? Why would he be so apprehensive even after denying links with diamond smuggling and gun running? Here is one of his lengthy and unequivocal denials:

"The Government categorically denies all of these allegations and challenges anyone to produce one shred of evidence. In spite of the gallant efforts of the Liberian Government to remain consistently engaged for peace in Sierra Leone, the international community remains unappreciative and incorrigibly accusative of Liberia in complicity, diamond dealing and gun running to the RUF.

"In the first place, it is wrong to assume that the war in Sierra Leone is only about diamonds, since diamond dealing in that country has thrived for decades under British rule and since independence of the Sierra Leonean state.

"The war in Sierra Leone cannot and must not be trivialized by assertions of diamond dealing as its primary cause, when other issues such as ethnicity, tribalism, mistrust, the use of mercenaries, and the struggle for state power have not yet been addressed.

"Nonetheless, it is the moral obligation of the Liberian government to set forth the following principles to first exonerate itself of the false charges as a first step in contributing to the resolution of the crisis".

If so, if he is clean, why the fanatical opposition to a trial?

Another oddity in the "peace proposals" is the continued rejection of UN deployment and peace enforcement, together with Taylor's highly religious preference for an ECOWAS solution, a solution he baptizes himself in because it contains the possibility of crowning the rebels leaders, just as he was crowned president under similar terms. By his opposition to UN peace enforcement, which has seen hundreds of rebels voluntarily disarming in the face of a superior military force, one is left to conclude that the Liberian game plan is tied around infinite war for an infinite supply line for diamonds and infinite peace talks. We must always remember Taylor's classic premise: "We will talk, and talk and talk about the talks." On the surface, the opposition to UN peace enforcement and massive deployment is odd because Taylor had volunteered to supply his own "peacekeeping forces", however laughable the offer. Here he elaborates:

"The ECOWAS formula used then, is still the most reasonable and relevant of the many prescriptions that are now being proposed to end the hostilities in Sierra Leone. The Liberian peace formula, basically embodied in the Lome Agreement, remains the best hope for a final resolution in Sierra Leone Further, it seems absolutely important that the UN not get involved in a war in Sierra Leone, given the negative experience it has encountered in Somalia, Rwanda, Angola, and the Congo. The UN has to live up its reputation as a neutral and friendly force. The conflict will not and cannot be resolved through the deployment of a massive military force, apparently un-impartial (sic)..."

But it is Taylor's demand that all parties return to their previous positions before the taking of UN hostages and collapse of the Lome Agreement that is again baffling. Although there is a unanimous verdict within the international community that diamonds are the enticement for the war and holding of territory, he insists on all parties holding on their territory prior to the UN hostage affair for "A speedy return to the implementation of the Lome Accord" an immediate cease-fire" (with) a return to the original line as of the signing of the Lome Agreement, on July 7, 1999, demobilization and disarmament of all factions in the Sierra Leonean conflict..."

Now comes the element of a "conspiracy", which he believes is being designed by his enemies, to deprive him of the presidency as a "democratically elected leader." The "peace proposals" are colored with notions of threats against Liberia from every corner of the globe. The UN deployment is seen as "threatening to the continued welfare of the Liberian State and its freely elected Government" along with claims that, "British arms have found their way into the hands of dissidents that attacked Liberia from Guinea, they could also find their way into the hands of dissidents all across the sub region thereby posing imminent danger to stability"

And yet as Taylor sees it, "No one appears to be listening to the legitimate concerns of the Liberian Government about the large groups of Liberian combatants in Sierra Leone, some identified to be training with the un-restructured Sierra Leonean army, who pose, as well, a direct threat to Liberia's national security".

With Sierra Leone feeble and disintegrated, his attention is focused on Guinea in the "peace proposals." The deep mistrust between him and Guinea has been lingering for years, dating back to the time when Conakry hosted Alhaji Kromah of ULIMO-K. Now, even after Kromah was expelled from Guinea to address Taylor's fears, more fears abound, leading to an indirect threat last week from Taylor's defense minister of a possible attack on Guinea to "flush out" the dissidents. Ongoing incursion into the country by Liberian exiles and dissidents has solidified Taylor's paranoia and belief of an international and sub regional conspiracy designed to see him out of the region. Says he:

"In spite of these efforts and the objective realities, Liberia's strategic interests have not been served. Liberian dissidents abound in Sierra Leone as active members of the various warring factions, while Guinean-based Liberian dissidents have attacked Liberian territory for the third time within the year. At the same time, no one appears to be concerned enough to condemn the regular incursion into Liberia's sovereign territory or censure the Guinean authorities for this blatant breach of international law and convention against Liberia".

Although he is not specific, what is clear here is the linkage of his backing of the RUF to a change in Guinean policy in terms of his claims regarding dissidents stationed there. He would like to see hundreds of thousands who have fled to Guinea because of his policies arrested and sent back to face his "Final Solution."

Then the final, True Confession:

"Finally, the Liberia Government does admit to a relationship with the RUF, which is no secret. However, the government rejects any notion that that relationship is based on pecuniary gains from diamond dealing and gun running. Liberia has never, nor does it intend to represent the RUF at any forum".

In reality however, Liberia is the RUF. No other West African country has presented an independent peace plan for Sierra Leone. No other country has rejected UN efforts. No country insists on having the RUF as an integral part of government as Liberia has. And nowhere else does the RUF feel at home as in Liberia.

With this "Peace Plan" apparently drafted directly from the President's Office, Washington may have to go back on the drawing board. The ultimatum was "premature."

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