2003 July 13 Sunday
Liberian Rebels Say Taylor Must Go Before Peacekeepers Arrive

The largest rebel force in Liberia insists Charles Taylor leave Liberia before peacekeeping forces enter.

"Any troops deployed before the departure of Taylor must be prepared for a firefight," the group said in a communique.

The rebels do not trust the African countries who will send peacekeeping forces.

Despite LURD's declared commitments to the peace process mediated by the West African regional body, ECOWAS, the rebel group appears to have developed a strong mistrust for West African leaders, who they allege seem to be backing Taylor. "Our fear is that we don't trust Taylor neither do we trust ECOWAS leaders. We believe many of them are working for Taylor. Some of their pronouncements have proved it. They still consider him as president. Look at the way they are dealing with the indictment issue. They are describing it as a political problem and they are trying to find a way around it to Taylor's favor," Dweh said.

There are both tribal and religious elements to the conflict in Liberia.

Both Lasimeto and Goon were wounded pushing back the latest rebel offensive last month. Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD, approached from the north, the direction of Guinea, their main patron. Although some call LURD a tribal movement because its ranks are dominated by Mandingos, others see it as a religion-oriented group. A handout circulating in Monrovia calls for jihad against Liberia's Christian establishment.

Analysts say LURD is best understood as a client of the neighboring states, most notably Ivory Coast, that Taylor destabilized by sending rebels into their territory.

So then does Ivory Coast not trust Nigeria?

Note that once peacekeepers arrive the Liberians will still have their tribal and religious loyalties. Also, the rebel and government fighters will still have the experience of years of fighting and years of extorting goods and cash from the populace. These people are not going to all turn over a new leaf tomorrow and start living according to civilized norms of behavior.

The fighters for the government are thoroughly corrupt.

Such fighters and their leaders commit most of the crimes in Monrovia, according to diplomats and community leaders. From Taylor down to his foot soldiers, violence or the threat of it has become the way to pay salaries, put food on the table, gain political power, buy fancy cars and fill Swiss bank accounts.

If you have a rival, you execute him. If you need money, you threaten one of Monrovia's wealthy Lebanese merchants until he pays you for protection. Or you simply loot his store.

Those fighters are demanding to be put on a US payroll or they will resort to a life of crime once the peacekeepers arrive. Well, they will probably resort to a life of crime either way. But paying them to work at some jobs at inflated salaries so that they at least will be off the street and monitorable part of the day would help the situation. However, such a pragmatic approach will probably strike the US government, the UN, and NGOs as too morally tainted. So expect a lot of unemployed fighters to be roaming around forming into crime gangs.

My guess is that the US will send soldiers to Liberia as part of a peacekeeping force. Bush will go into it with the intent of pulling US troops out after a few months. But if a lot of fighting continues he will come under pressure to keep US troops in place. Whether he will do so remains to be seen.

Update: Karl Vick reports that the Liberians he met in Monrovia all want US soldiers to come.

"You know in Liberia we have brotherly feelings for America," said Jeremiah Varmie, owner of Uncle Sam's Tele Link, where most of the long-distance calls placed are to the United States. "I can't speak for the soldiers, but I don't think your people would be attacked."

The soldiers say the same. Young men carrying weapons -- in some cases since 1989, when warlord Charles Taylor began the rebellion that eventually made him president -- say they want only to put down their guns and go back to school.

The Liberians have seen Black Hawk Down and they promise they won't be like the Somalians. Well, geez, for the sake of the US Marines I hope so.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 13 09:32 AM  Chaotic Regions


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