Liberian truce collapses


Mark Huband in Monrovia

The Guardian, 12 November 1992


BATTLES raged throughout the suburbs of the Liberian capital last night. A ceasefire demanded by west African presidents collapsed minutes after it started.

As the fighting continued, the top US state department official with responsibility for Africa called for UN intervention in the three-year civil war, accusing regional peacekeepers of losing their neutrality.

West African peacekeeping troops fought fierce battles with guerrilla forces of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) within four miles of the city centre, which the NPFL has besieged since October 15. Nigerian jets bombed NPFL positions throughout the suburbs, supported by rockets launched from Nigerian ships stationed close to Monrovia port.

Artillery fire started only nine minutes after the ceasefire called for by west African leaders came into effect at midnight on Tuesday. Mr Taylor had called his own unilateral ceasefire for midday Tuesday, largely to avoid the impression that he had acceded to the leaders’ demand. However, his troops did not even observe their own deadline, and four NPFL fighters opened fire during the afternoon.

Brigadier-General Samuel Malu, the Nigerian chief of staff of the peacekeeping troops, insisted that his troops had come under attack, and that the west African force is neutral.

Charles Taylor, who launched the war in December 1989 in an attempt to overthrow Doe who was killed in 1990, accuses the peacekeeping force of backing the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy in order to block his way to the presidency.

In a startling policy move, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Herman Cohen, yesterday flew directly in the face of west African leaders by saying that the peacekeeping force had become a factor in the fighting and was no longer        neutral.

He said in an interview with the BBC: “Ecowas is unfortunately no longer a neutral party. . . They are now one of the combatants. I think the next step – and we are discussing this in Washington – will be UN intervention to provide a neutral party to try and bring about a political solution. We will vote for that. We will approve of that.”

Mr Cohen’s remarks appear to have caught the state department on the hop. An official said: “The remarks do not accurately reflect US policy, since we have consistently supported Ecowas.” He added: “We have no change of policy.”

Sources said it appeared that the BBC had obtained the taped comments from an off-the-record session Mr Cohen had at Harvard University last week.

Mr Cohen’s statement will also outrage West African states. They were encouraged to find a regional solution to the Liberian crisis largely because the US, formerly Liberia’s closest ally, refused to take an initiative of its own while it still had enough influence in the country to prevent the bloodbath.

The US, determined not to be directly involved despite its past support for the Doe regime, also pressed for a regional initiative to direct attention away from itself.

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