Rebel Taylor could face military action




Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 15 April 1992

West African diplomats revived the possibility of using military force against the Liberian rebel leader Charles Taylor, yesterday after he denied signing a peace agreement in Geneva last week allowing West African peacekeeping troops to deploy in his territory and disarm his forces.

Mr Taylor, in a radio broadcast from his territory on Monday night, said the Geneva accord “amounted to the abandonment of Liberia’s sovereignty to a foreign force controlled by a military command”, a reference to the 6,000-strong mostly Nigerian, peacekeeping force in Monrovia.

A senior West African diplomat said yesterday: “The Geneva meeting was a way of placating Charles Taylor. The Nigerian government has the view that the Liberian crisis must come to an end. If this is through more military pressure, then that will be considered. The Ivory Coast was pushing the diplomatic moves, but now the situation has become severely embarrassing to them.”

The communique signed in Geneva by Mr Taylor and three West African presidents was an attempt to revive an agreement signed in the Ivory Coast capital, Yamoussoukro, last October. There the rebels agreed to the disarmament and encampment of forces, and the deployment of peacekeeping troops throughout Liberia, of which Mr Taylor controls up to 90 per cent.

The Yamoussoukro accord brought together West African presidents who had previously been at odds over what course to take, notably Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast was Mr Taylor’s main supply route during the two-year civil war.

Whatever influence Mr Houphouet-Boigny had over Mr Taylor appears to have diminished and the Taylor statement is an embarrassment to the Ivory Coast president, who is worried about security along the Ivory Coast’s border with Liberia.

Ivory Coast government sources expressed their anger yesterday at Mr Taylor’s reneging on the agreement, which was initially seen as a triumph for Mr  Houphouet-Boigny, who is troubled by a political crisis at home.

But Mr Taylor no longer needs to use the Ivory Coast as a supply line, as he is upgrading the airfield at his headquarters in the town of Gbarnga, where he has four military aircraft stored under camouflage and numerous military advisers from  Burkina Faso, whose president also signed the Geneva agreement.

It is likely that France will try to push further diplomatic initiatives to avoid a military clash between Mr Taylor’s rebels and the peacekeeping force. France believes a Taylor presidency of in Liberia is inevitable and French businessmen are working closely with Mr Taylor so that France can secure lucrative deals if he takes power.

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the French president’s son and adviser on African affairs, and the French, foreign minister, Roland Dumas, met the Nigerian president, Ibrahim Babingida, in March to stake a French claim in the negotiations. According to senior Nigerian sources, the French were told that if they insisted on playing a role, they must be prepared for action against Mr Taylor if the talks failed.


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