Old Liberian rivals sign new accord as third force invades




Mark Huband in Monrovia

The Guardian, 8 April 1992

As a third force of invading rebels split Liberia into three parts this week, the country’s two would-be presidents agreed at talks in Geneva yesterday to implement a peace plan they approved last October.

But yesterday’s communique on the agreement, signed by the contenders for the presidency and three other African leaders, did not make clear if they believed the new settlement would succeed where others had failed.

The communique made no mention of the proposal by Amos Sawyer, who as interim president controls the capital, Monrovia, with the help of Nigerian and Ghanaian peacekeeping troops, that sanctions be applied against the country’s most powerful rebel leader, Charles Taylor, if he again refuses to implement the plan.

Mr Taylor, who also calls himself president, controls most of the country. He has previously refused to disarm his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), on the grounds that a rival militia, the United Liberation Movement of Liberia (Ulimo), must lay down its arms first.

Invading Ulimo forces, which are made up largely from the Krahn tribe of the dead former Liberian president, Samuel Doe, this week pushed to within 30 miles of the capital, Monrovia, according to refugees and fleeing travellers. Mr Doe was murdered in 1990.

Ulimo is attacking Mr Taylor’s NPFL. It has said it will drive Mr Taylor’s forces from the country. Ulimo’s leader, Raleigh Seekie, said earlier this week that the peace accord signed in the Ivory Coast last October was worthless as Mr Taylor had rejected its main elements. These included the deployment of a West African peace-keeping force in NPFL territory and the disarming of NPFL forces.

Mr Taylor had argued he would not disarm while he was under attack from Ulimo. He also objected to West African troops occupying his territory, saying it infringed his sovereignty. Critics alleged he was stalling to maximise his profits from the sale of mineral resources on his territory.

The delay in firming up a settlement also gave Ulimo time to strike back at Mr Taylor. And every passing day made the task of deploying West African peace-keeping troops more difficult because of the Ulimo advance and the excuse this gave Mr Taylor for retaining his weapons.

But yesterday’s communique in Geneva said all combatants would be moved into designated camps and disarmed, as provided for in the October accord.

Witnesses say Mr Taylor has bought extensive arms supplies with his mineral proceeds. His forces are building a tarmac runway at NPFL headquarters in the town of Gbarnga, where he has four fighter aircraft under camouflage tarpaulins.

His increased fire power would give him the means to match any possible future assault by West African peacekeeping forces.


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