by Bernard Otabil
(IPS) LONDON --
nobody's surprise, Liberia remains a battlefield of pro-government forces and insurgents -- both seeking control over a few final strategic roadways encircling the capital city Monrovia.
A cease-fire signed in Accra on June 17 and trumpeted across the world barely lasted a week; the rebels in this war-torn country continued to push forward in what military experts believe is the final push by them to capture Monrovia, which remains the only major city not under the control of rebels who now control two-thirds of the country.
The rebels of LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and democracy) and MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia) however say that they are responding to attacks by government forces.
From the moment the indictment by the Sierra Leone Special Court of Charles Taylor, legitimate President of Liberia, was made public on June 4, for his role in the Sierra Leonean civil war, it was clear that the peace talks in Ghana would fail to end the Liberian war. At least, it was clear the outcome would be greatly influenced by the indictment, and that is what has happened. No matter how the peace process is viewed, the situation was made more complicated by the indictment than had been expected.
Many observers and commentators believe that the ill-timed indictment of Taylor is the cause of the current escalation of fighting in Liberia, with the rebels confident of overrunning the government forces as Taylor is under pressure from the international community. But what will be the cost if they do win, as human lives are lost and there is massive destruction of property?
Worryingly, it seems as if the rebels have managed to convince the world that they are the best alternative to lead Liberia. The fact is that they are not. The war is cyclical, and the fighting in Liberia, according to sources, is mostly fought on revenge. The issue of the capture and subsequent killing of former President Samuel Doe some years back, some say, is still hanging, with scores yet to be settled.
Although Taylor himself was not directly involved in the death of Doe, he is still accused of indirect involvement since, it is claimed, it was his initial rebel onslaught on Liberia that brought the taste of blood to the people, leading to formation of several splinter groups that also carried out atrocities, one of which captured and killed Doe. So as far as Doe's death -- and many other deaths -- is concerned, Taylor is seen as having blood on his hands.
In the midst of all the fighting, many people forget the poor people of Liberia who live under extremely harsh economic conditions. Liberia is officially one of the worst places to live in the world. The country has no social amenities, and the country once dubbed the America of West Africa with the use of the U.S. dollar as the national currency is now close to total collapse.
On June 19 the Liberian Information Minister, Reginald Goodridge, warned that "an immediate and unceremonious departure" for President Charles Taylor could lead to a "bloodbath." This was in direct reference to the agreement reached in Accra for the formation of a transitional government in Liberia in 30 days, excluding Taylor.
Goodridge is about right. Greater bloodshed is what is feared by many analysts and observers who also believe that the international community, especially the joint UN-Sierra Leone Special Court investigating the war crimes in Sierra Leone, was wrong to indict Taylor at a time of crucial peace talks.
Some sources claim that already there are secret meetings held at different locations in the world to bring peace to Liberia, but the indictment could scupper most of these initiatives. The indictment has also brought pressure on the ECOWAS mediation force tasked with finding a lasting solution to the problems of Liberia.
Now, many claim, it is difficult to see how peace can be achieved in Liberia if the indictment of Taylor remains. Yet it appears that the Special Court is committed to ensuring that the indictment remains in force.
Switzerland, in direct response to the indictment against Taylor, has ordered its banks to block any accounts held by Taylor, his relatives and members of his government. According to the Swiss authorities, this follows a request by the Special Court. In a statement on June 23, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice said: "He is claimed to have invested the proceeds from the diamond sales [from Sierra Leone] in a number of countries, including Switzerland."
And according to David Crane, the Special Court Prosecutor, "The money may be evidence of the joint criminal enterprise that we allege Taylor, with several other indictees, conducted in Sierra Leone over a period of years. In conjunction with the Swiss, we will work to disentangle Taylor's finances and identify the profits he reaped from his criminal activity here."
Despite the fact that the Court indicted Taylor secretly on March 7, it only announced the indictment publicly on June 4 as the Liberian leader attended the opening of peace talks with rebels in Ghana.
Crane's statement declared: "The indictment was judicially approved on March 7 and until today [June 4] was sealed on my request to the Court. My office was given an international mandate by the United Nations and the Republic of Sierra Leone to follow the evidence impartially wherever it leads. It has led us unequivocally to Taylor.
"Upon learning that Taylor was traveling to Ghana, the Registrar of the Special Court served the outstanding warrant for his arrest on Ghanaian authorities and transmitted the arrest warrant to Interpol. This is the first time that his presence outside of Liberia has been publicly confirmed. The registrar was doing his duty by carrying out the order of the Court.
"Furthermore, the timing of this announcement was carefully considered in light of the important peace process begun this week. To ensure the legitimacy of these negotiations, it is imperative that the attendees know they are dealing with an indicted war criminal.
"These negotiations can still move forward, but they must do so without the involvement of this indictee. The evidence upon which this indictment was approved raises serious questions about Taylor's suitability to be guarantor of any deal, let alone a peace agreement.
It is rather disturbing that Crane did not consider the implications of his words, when he said the negotiations "can still move forward but they must do so without the involvement of this indictee (Taylor)." Also, Crane did not offer to discuss Taylor's indictment with the Ghanian authorities, at least to make them aware of what the Court had planned, since they were hosting the peace talks.
Since Crane had known of the decision since March 7, he could, at least, have used diplomacy in a more effective manner to ensure that the host country of the peace talks was given some time to plan an effective court of action. As it turned out, the plan to get Taylor arrested in Ghana did not work, while Liberia is still on the loose.
From Crane's actions, it appears as if he is against peace in Liberia as long as Taylor is involved. But how can the poor people of Liberia be held ransom just because of one person? There are many war criminals in Liberia, and making Taylor the main target is not fair to the people of Liberia.
Taylor's indictment and the subsequent continued fighting between the rebel groups and government forces threaten stability in the whole Mano River region. They have also raised tensions with neighboring Sierra Leone as Taylor has accused the government in Freetown of actively support the LURD rebels and helping them to prepare a fresh attack on Monrovia.
In a radio talk show, Taylor accused Sierra Leone of being "responsible for the killing of over 300 persons during the assault on Monrovia" in recent weeks, adding, "We are not guessing, we have arrested some Sierra Leonean POWs who gave us full details."
With hints of a call for war against its neighbor, Taylor said: "This is Sierra Leone versus Liberia. I guess if they want to disgrace a government and people, they think they have an opportunity. The Liberian people are in the fighting mood to ensure than this does not happen.
A week after the signing of the Accra agreement, on June 24 Liberian rebels threatened to suspend their active participation in the continuing talks with representatives of the government because of repeated government attacks on their positions. According to military sources fighting between government and LURD forces was concentrated around the Po river, 17 km west of Monrovia; fleeing residents said the sound of heavy bombardment could be heard throughout the Monrovia suburbs of Duala, Brewersville and Caldwell.
Meanwhile the JVT (Joint Verification Team) which should have gone to Liberia on June 21 to chart the agreed cease-fire positions of the warring parties (with two representatives each from the warring actions, the UN, the African Union and the International Contact Group on Liberia), did not go there then. Talks have been held, so far inconclusively, on an intervention force possibly led by the US, which has had forces in Liberian waters during the recent fighting.
Despite the renewed fighting and the threat by rebels to suspend talks, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is brokering the talks, said the Liberian peace process was "progressing well." But on the ground the situation is critical, and it is important that every attempt is made to ensure an early resolution. The indictment of Taylor should be reviewed in the interest of peace, as the poor people of Liberia continue to suffer the most. Is the world waiting for more deaths so that more people can be indicted in the future?
July 24, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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