Taylor's "Legitimate Concerns" & Conte's Hard Choices

By Tom Kamara
Jan 9, 2001

More than 1600 West African troops may be deployed along the forested and chaotic Liberian-Sierra Leonean and Guinea borders in a dream to halt bloody cross-border incursions wiping out towns and villages and creating infinite refugees within the region. There are now over 300,000 refugees and displaced Guineans wandering with no where to turn, and the fantasy is that these 1600 poorly equipped and hungry soldiers will protect them.

But President Lansana Conte is taking no chances. It is speculated in Conakry that President Conte, an Army General who fought in a number of African liberation wars, will now take over the Defense Ministry portfolio from his civilian appointee. Swift bombings of rebel-held positions along the Sierra Leone-Guinea border followed the changeover. This in itself may not be the ultimate solution. But its is dire recognition of the plague awaiting Guinea.

Conte may be coming to grip with the truth that a wise man or woman must depend on him or herself. Liberians, in their sycophancy under inept and self-serving political leadership, perfected infinite and defeatist songs of "Thank God for ECOMOG." At the close of the tragic comedy, ECOMOG delivered them to the Lion's Den.

Determined to depart from this lapdog mentality, Conte recently diagnosed his country's problems when he accused a "syndicate of African states" headed by Charles Taylor's Liberia, of eyeing Guinea's resources (just as they have exploited Sierra Leone's) of leading and orchestrating Guinea's decay. His views, which have been circulating for over a decade since the fires of West African destabilization were lit by Libya, Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso, are backed by many reports including the recently released UN Panel of Experts Report on diamonds and war in Sierra Leone.

Nevertheless, OAU Secretary General, Salim A. Salim, has claimed that Taylor has "legitimate fears to be addressed" in return for the halt of his schemes of regional anarchy. Salim's counter diagnosis indicates how the Liberian warlord cum President has been blessed with many local and international disciples zealously marketing his "legitimate concerns" oblivious of the poor driven out of their homes and left without hopes in the contest over diamonds and other resources.

The UN Special Representative to Liberia, the Gambian Felix-Dowes Thomas, once demanded that to address Taylor's "legitimate concerns", Roosevelt Johnson, (the Krahn warlord who escaped from Taylor's bullets and was rescued by the American embassy in Monrovia) must be captured and returned to Liberia for "trial." Former American President Jimmy Carter, who recently accused Taylor of fomenting regional destabilization and terminated his democracy-building project in Liberia, once portrayed the warlord as a misunderstood victim, a "family man" under whose leadership abuses were "inconceivable". Furthermore, prominent American politicians saw events in Liberia and within the region through the slaughtering eyes of a man they sold as a new Nelson Mandela or a Ghandi soon to be a "continental leader" because he "understood both worlds" (America and somehow Africa), played tennis and listened to the classics. He was their "brother" so desired!

But what are Taylor's "legitimate concerns" so callously justified, circulated, and sold? They are nothing more than his burning desire to complete the circle of executions of key African-Liberian activists and politicians, his perceived obstacles in cementing his grip on the country. This project began in 1989. It was also aimed at any form of opposition to his thieving and extending criminal dominion. Thus if Conte wants to satisfy Taylor's "legitimate concerns" for Guinea to be at "peace" a la Sierra Leone, then he must arrest and extradite all fleeing Liberians in Guinean refugees camps, particularly the Mandingos and Krahns, forever his arch enemies. In addition, Conte must bar all those perceived as opponents to Taylor and his RUF from ever entering Guinea. Better still, mass secret and public executions of fleeing refugees to address Taylor's "legitimate concerns" and present the OAU Secretary-General for a Nobel Peace Prize will solve the problems.

There are already such precedents within the region in addressing these "legitimate concerns" of a man who butchered 250,000 of his own people, reduced them to irredeemable poverty, and blamed the international community for his anarchy. These "legitimate concerns" are real even as he takes periodic private medical trips to France and buys $68,000 cars for his children without any thoughts of the tens of thousands amputated Sierra Leone children because of the diamonds he needs to foster his schemes.

The Ivory Coast, which opened its borders for an unprecedented massive infusion of arms and mercenaries into region in 1989, has shamelessly organized an inquisition for 13 alleged Liberian rebels who, it said, crossed into its territory from Liberia. But the border of Danane, along with key Ivorian towns including Abidjan, were virtual staging posts for horrors against Liberians and Sierra Leoneans. Any reminder that such a trial is the type of hypocrisy that leads to horrors will not suffice for the Ivorians. They have relished in other nations' tragedy, continuously benefiting from the terrors of Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and now Guinea.

So the choices for Conte are hard ones based on what is emerging from the recent UN investigative report and many more. The Report indicates that Guinea is caught in a web of criminal transactions and conspiracies. With Sierra Leone now delivered to regional and international criminal operatives based in Monrovia, it is unlikely that Guinea will be left as an untrustworthy island within an expanding criminal empire if Conte sees solutions through ECOWAS' eyes. The ominous dimension in this scheme, tied to spreading poverty and the lust to make the fast dollar, is the ease with which Guinean collaborators, under the cover of political demands as in the case of Sierra Leone and before it Liberia, can be recruited.

Noting the regional dimensions to Guinea's plight, the UN Panel said it "received information on the presence of Ukrainian, Burkinabe, Nigérien, Lybian and South African nationals in Liberia for training purposes. The training was given to non-Liberian nationals for deployment in RUF-territory in Sierra Leone, and for action in recent clashes on the Guinea border. Early in 1999, a significant improvement of tactics and use of weapons by the RUF rebels was noted in Sierra Leone. It was more than a coincidence that this happened immediately after foreigners started training these elements in Liberia".

Guinea's geographical proximity to Liberia, and suspicions which Taylor's harbours of the country as a Mandingo/Krahn base of operations against his regime, will continue to pose threats to Conakry's survival. The UN Panel made this point by touching on a number of criminal intrigues and operations with Guinea as the center:

"On July 18, 2000 an Ilyushin 18D with Liberian registration EL-ALY requested permission to land at Conakry in Guinea. The aircraft was operated by a company named West Africa Air Services. The crew were citizens of the Republic of Moldova and the plane had flown from Kyrgyzstan to Burkina Faso, then to Guinea and finally to Liberia. The cargo documents listed seven tons of 'spare parts to equipment of aircraft' and the client was a company named Kipo Dersgona in Conakry, Guinea. This 'Guinean' company is not listed in the register of companies in Guinea. The plane is also not among those listed for the Panel by the Liberian authorities as having Liberian registry, nor is it listed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

"In Conakry, the Panel was informed of the following incident: on 10 November 2000, the crew of an Antonov 12, registered in Ukraine and chartered over a period of time by a Guinean airline, was carrying out maintenance work on the aircraft which had been grounded because of a contract dispute. The crew requested permission from the control tower to taxi, in order to test the engines. The authorization was granted. Soon thereafter, the aircraft took off and disappeared into the Guinean sky without a flight plan, without authorization and without answering numerous calls from the tower. It was only few hours later that the aircraft was reported to be on the ground at Freetown. This is a concrete example of what can happen at airports in the Region".

A regional network of rebel movements, and the role of regional states in this scheme of disaster, controlled from Monrovia, was similarly noted:

"During its work, the Panel obtained information on connections between the RUF and rebels in Guinea-Bissau, and with UNITA representatives in West Africa. The evidence, however, was not conclusive, and needs more research, preferably with cooperation from law enforcement and border control authorities in the region".

With such a landscape, Conte is confronted with some hard choices. Some of the very states he accuses of being a part of a "syndicate of states" against Guinea's interests, may be the very ones with troops at the borders. And common sense would dictate that if a 15,000-man Guinean Army is unable to save the country, it is unlikely that a 1600 foreign force can. And if the examples of Liberia and Sierra Leone are taken into analysis, then Guinea must brace it itself for an avalanche of collapse and rebel governments. A Guinea Opposition leader, Jean Marie Dore, admits that the presence of West African troops would quicken the destruction of Guinea. The Guinean Government has also indicated the West African troops should not assume the role of tourists as the UN troops in Sierra Leone are. They must be prepared to return fire when attacked and engage the rebels. This may not happen.

Already, Taylor, who campaigned for West African troops even though he kicked them out of Liberia three years ago, is demanding a "Status of Forces" Agreement with the new troops.

In the end, the wise man must depend on himself. Nigerian or Ghanaian troops that significantly contributed to creating a president Taylor, will not rescue Guinea from the clutches of evil in which Sierra Leone and Liberia find themselves.

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