The Reality of Sanctions, War and a Regime Adrift

By Our Staff

The Perspective
May 10, 2001

No sooner than the Security Council had concluded that the Taylor regime in Monrovia had failed to comply with UN demands that it cut off ties with the rebel RUF (which the US State Department has listed in its report on terrorism), and discontinue its involvement in diamonds smuggling and arms trafficking, which has fueled the ongoing civil war in Sierra Leone, feeling nonplus about the reality of sanctions, and the raging, uncontrolled war in Lofa County, the regime seems determined to fight for its survival, eventhough it says it is doing so for its citizens and the country.

A chronology of events before and after the UN imposition of sanctions not only suggest a regime that is struggling for survival, but one that is adrift. These developments help explain the dilemma faced by the Taylor regime. Whether it wants to continue to remain an outcast or a full fledged member of the international community.

Item One: The Liberian government accuses Britain of providing training and logistical support to the dissident forces in Lofa. The government allegation is based on the arrest of a sixty year old man (Lasanah Harunah) , a purported fighter of the Kamajor fighters, from the Mende speaking tribe of the border region by government troops in Vahun, Lofa County, whom they claimed had confirmed that the dissidents were being trained and armed by British military officers in Sierra Leone. But Britain has denied training and arming Liberian dissidents. The British officers said they have never gone a the twenty mile radius around Freetown. Britain's only acknowledged role has been their involvement in revamping and restructuring the Sierra Leone army.

Item Two: Justice Minister of Liberia, Eddington Varmah, calls a press conference and accuses students at the University of Liberia for collaborating with the dissidents:

"As a result of the patriotic efforts of dedicated men and women of our military forces at the battle front in Lofa County, the involvement of Guinean and Sierra Leonean troops have been further confirmed by the arrest of some mercenaries during fighting in that County.

"Interestingly, these mercenaries have confessed during interrogation by our security forces that they are part of a larger group supporting dissidents based in Guinea and Sierra Leone with collaborators here in Monrovia; and that they have also infiltrated this city...

"Based on evidence gathered by our intelligence sources, we have confirmation that there are dissident collaborators operating on the University of Liberia campus and that these agent provocateurs are using this institution as launching grounds for anarchy within the City of Monrovia."

"There begin no express permission from the Ministry of Justice as required by law for the holding of a demonstration by the Concerned Students Movement, said movement and the Public in general are the Public in general are warned that no one under whatever circumstances, will be allowed to hold any illegal demonstration anywhere within the territorial confines of the Republic of Liberia.

"Accordingly, anyone found in violation of this warning and engaging in the holding of illegal demonstration and/or rallies would be deemed a dissident collaborator, ordered arrested and prosecuted in accordance with the laws of the land.

"The so called Concerned Students Movement of the university of Liberia, the Public and all like are advised to remain law abiding during these times our nation struggle against ever forces bent on bringing untold suffering upon the Liberian People."

Item Three: In another disgusting display, Liberian government parades in public a sixteen year old, Mohammed Sherif, it said was captured and is a "major" commanding one of the rebel units. This was to further support it claims that the rebels were being supported by Guinea against the Liberian government.

Item Four: President Taylor calls for Liberians to tighten their belts and be prepared to endure sanctions, but charges that there is an international "plot" to remove his government.

"I think this whole effort is an attempt to bring this government down. This situation is unfortunate for Liberia. It is terrible and our people are bound to suffer." He has accused the international community of making decision "that will harm the people of this republic."

Further echoing this suspicion of international conspiracy against Liberia, Liberia's Foreign Minister, Monie Captan, speaking at the United Nations a day before sanctions were imposed, pointed accusing fingers at the "big powers" especially Britain, of deciding way before hand, without ascertaining whether Liberia had severed ties with the RUF.

"The decision to impose sanctions on Liberia was premeditated and would have come into effect irrespective of what action were taken by the Liberia government.

"Sanctions sponsored and implemented at the insistence of powerful countries against small and impoverished African countries without conclusive evidence of wrongdoing can and should have a chilling effect on all African countries."

Item Five: Liberian government issues gag rule to the Liberia press regarding the war. The new Minister of Information, E. Reginald Goodridge, has instructed the media that all information about the fighting in Lofa needs to be cleared by the authorities before it can be published. The new policy calls for the media to "clear all statements, comments and news about the fighting in Lofa County and other issues of national security before being made public."

The policy also stipulates that any "agency or individual who conveys information to the public that could lead to confusion or panic in the country will bear full responsibility for the source or basis of such information," the minister said. The independent press in Monrovia says that this new policy or rule basically amounts to press censorship.

Item Six: Attributing it to the escalating war, the Liberian government has issued a travel advisory for foreign diplomats, restricting their movement and travel outside the capital, Monrovia. The government also says that it will reinstitute extra military checkpoints in the main city area to provide "maximum security" for its residents. Many in the diplomatic community view this as a pitiful move against foreign diplomats whom Taylor has often viewed suspiciously.

Item Seven: Attempting to counter what it claims is a "massive negative media agenda against the Liberian government," the Liberian government has organized a state-sponsored demonstration to protest the UN sanctions which it argues would hurt "ordinary people." The government says it has gathered 500,000 signatures of a target goal of one million signatures, which it says it would send to the United Nations to justify its claims of Liberians rejection of sanctions.

But while the Taylor regime continues to insist that it has complied with UN demands, and has requested the establishment of an "international verification mechanism" to checkmate its claims, the spate of government policy actions coming only two days after sanctions have gone into effect , casts doubts on whether it is prepared to subject itself to a verification process by international monitors that are independent and neutral.

Being its own player and referee at the same time, the Taylor regime has remained defiant in the face of overwhelming evidence of its involvement in the illicit trade in diamonds for guns, and has refused to accept responsibility for its role in contributing to the destabilization of the West African region. Denial, denial, denial, has been the government's mantra from the very beginning when the U.N. Panel of Experts published its report on Liberia's involvement in fueling the crisis in Sierra Leone.

"Finally, he wants you to believe that all the current accusations against him are false. No, he hasn't harassed and intimidated political opponents in Liberia. No, he hasn't been trading guns to the Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone, a force infamous for chopping the limbs off children. No, he's never had anything to do with diamond smuggling. Yes, he has had a long relationship with rebels of the RUF. But far from being the primary instigator of the gruesome war in Sierra Leone, Taylor insists he has been a pivotal peacemaker. He also says that he's met international demands to disengage from the RUF", Jeff Barthelot writes in the Newsweek about Taylor, the "African Bigman".

But verifying whether sanctions are being maintained are crucial; and this can only be assessed by independent monitors. But even where the Taylor regime has been receptive or has embraced the need for "international monitors", it has prevailed on the UN that this be deferred to ECOWAS - the Economic Community of West African States - the West African organization that has championed opposition to sanctions against the Taylor regime. Believing in "African solution to African problems" is not an acceptable way forward. The UN must establish an international mechanism to monitor the sanction regime imposed on Liberia, but it is crucial that it be given an international character to make it neutral and effective.

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