Liberian rebels agree to disarm




Mark Huband in Yamoussoukro

The Guardian, 18 September 1991

Liberian rebels yesterday agreed to key demands laying the foundations for a negotiated end to the country’s 21-month civil war.

Central to an agreement signed in the Ivory Coast after a two-day summit of West African leaders and conflicting factions in the war, was a decision by the rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia to disarm its troops and encamp its forces at designated sites.

The disarmament and encampment are to be supervised by the five-nation West African peacekeeping force which was sent to Liberia last September. Recognition of the peacekeeping force by the NPFL leader Charles Taylor marks a significant about-turn by the rebel group.

This recognition stems mainly from a decision by Senegal to send troops to join the force. NPFL delegates at the summit, which was chaired by the Ivory Coast President, Fe!ix Houphouet-Boïgny, said they hoped the maximum size of each nation’s contingent in the peacekeeping force would, be 500 troops. Nigeria, who the NPFL believes wants to prevent Mr Taylor becoming President, currently has around 5,000 troops in the force.

The NPFL has been under increasing pressure following an invasion of its territory by troops loyal to the murdered Liberian President, Samuel Doe. The invaders, known as the United Liberian Movement for Democracy (Ulimo), have declared their intention to prevent tile NPFL taking power.

A third area of agreement was the decision to establish an electoral commission. The commission will comprise five members; two each from the Liberian interim government of Amos Sawyer and the NPFL, and a fifth member nominated by these four. The elections will be supervised by representatives from the International Negotiations Network established by the former United States President, Jimmy Carter.

Senior West African diplomats believe the apparent success of the meeting – after two inconclusive earlier meetings in Yamoussoukro – is largely due to US pressure on the Ivory Coast and the NPFL to come to a resolution.

They believe that the US signalled it was not prepared to see the regional rivalry between Nigeria and France and its allies in the region, placed above the need to find a resolution to the conflict.

Nigerian influence, and its dominance of the West African peacekeeping force, initially hampered a negotiated end to the war involving the French-speaking countries with which Nigeria has traditionally had strained relations.

This situation altered when Washington, which has strong historical ties with Liberia, tried to involve the francophone Ivory Coast in discussions while confirming its commitment to the peacekeeping force and Nigeria’s role in it.

A year ago the United States appealed to President Houphouet-Boïgny, Africa’s longest serving president, to convene negotiations between Liberia’s warring sides.

His initial efforts were unsuccessful as by failing to stop the NPFL Using the Ivory Coast as a supply route President Houphouet-Boïgny was regarded by Mr Taylor’s enemies as being partisan.

In a speech to the US Congress last month, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen, finally shed any ambiguity when he made it clear that in the US view the NPFL should lay down its weapons.

On a visit to the Ivory Coast last weekend, the US Vice-President Dan Quayle said Washington supported a modified peacekeeping force which would include Senegalese troops for which the US would provide financial assistance.

This was a clear rejection of an Ivorian suggestion that United Nations troops be sent to Liberia, and that French troops be dispatched for the rebels to surrender their arms to, thereby heightening the French role and making it appear as though Nigeria had failed to resolve the problem.

Earlier this year France suggested that peace talks be held in Paris, a suggestion that West African diplomats viewed as a similar attempt to undermine Nigeria’s prestige.

The US decision to assist Senegal, a French-speaking country with close links to France, to contribute troops to the peacekeeping force, was a way of ending the animosity between the region’s French- and English-speaking countries over the Liberian issue.

The Ivory Coast summit announced that a further meeting would be held at the end of October to assess developments on the issues agreed yesterday.



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