afrol News, 16 May - In Liberia, "the situation is one of growing despair, with high concern that the country could fall back into civil war," worried UN observers noted this week. Hostilities are again on the rise five years after the last Liberian civil war ended.
UN relief co-ordinator Carolyn McAskie told a meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday that the political and military situation in Liberia is deteriorating rapidly. On her recent visit to the country, she had observed a "growing despair" contrasting the moves towards ending the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
- There was a nervousness in the air, and the sense was that the political and military situation was rapidly deteriorating, McAskie told the Council. "Meetings with government officials, civil society, humanitarian partners, opposition parties and others all brought out high concern that the country could fall back into civil war, with rebel attacks already occurring."
Liberia has experienced five relatively peaceful years after the scrupulous warlord Charles Taylor took control in the country and ended the civil war in 1997. Taylor's repressive regime has been able to fully control the situation within Liberia these years, at high human rights costs.
His aggressive foreign policy, which led to UN sanctions being imposed on Liberia this month, however led to the destabilisation of the entire region and, finally, to the new threats of civil war in Liberia. Taylor's government is supporting the Sierra Leonean RUF rebels/terrorists and similar groups in Guinea. Guinea, which is hosting over 100,000 Liberian refugees, has answered by supporting anti-Taylor rebels.
Fighting along the borders of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia broke out late last year. In March, rebels took the northern town of Voinjama, close to the Guinean border. Taylor's troops, taken by surprise, immediately started a counter-offensive, but the rebels only suffered temporal setbacks.
This month, the fighting spread and the conflict is now centred around the town of Salayei, about 200 km northeast of the capital Monrovia. The fighting has intensified considerably in recent weeks, and the government is reportedly again mounting a major counter-offensive.
Also the UN mission of Carolyn McAskie had to remain in Monrovia "because it was unsafe to travel outside the city," as it reported. Rebel attacks were occurring closer and closer to the capital.
Liberia blames Guinea for the fighting. Guinea has been giving refuge to member of the Liberian opposition since warlord Charles Taylor took power in 1997 and was known to back forces opposite to Taylor during the civil war. Guinea and Liberia frequently accuse each other of backing each other's rebels.
The fighting in Liberia is causing a major humanitarian crisis. Up to 80,000 internally displaced persons had already been reported in Liberia, with 162,000 Liberian refugees in the region. "A lack of resources and hindered access was seriously hampering the ability to provide much-needed assistance to them," McAskie said on Monday. New group of refugees "are threatening to pour in [to Guinea and Sierra Leone] from Liberia" as the situation worsens, she noted.
Carolyn McAskie concluded that peace in the region could only be restored if the instability in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea was tackled together. "For that purpose, a subregional capacity for the exchange and analysis of strategic information needs to be established," she said.
- For Liberia and the entire region, urgent assistance must be provided to counter the conditions of extreme poverty, low government capacity and other serious hindrances to peace, said McAskie. Her proposals were hailed by concerned speakers in the following Security Council debate.
Liberia's deteriorating situation is somewhat connected to the UN sanctions on the country, banning Liberia's diamond and timber exports and travel by top officials. A weapons embargo also exists.
McAskie claimed the sanctions only increased Liberia's isolation and make it more difficult for the country to receive aid. This view is not shared by the UN majority. Although not outspoken, few countries would shed tears if Taylor was to lose control over Monrovia. Taylor is accused as a war criminal, responsible for the deaths of more than 150,000 people.
The British UN representative Jeremy Greenstock noted that that the situation in Liberia was "fast deteriorating". There could however not be a discussion on lifting the sanctions on Liberia yet, as he was "not yet confident that President Taylor had gotten the message." There are no plans to impose sanctions on Guinea for its probable support to Liberian rebels.
Source: Based on UN sources and afrol archives