Refugees flee after Liberian massacre



 

Move to crush rebels causes rift in peacekeeping force

 

Mark Huband in Accra

The Guardian, 8 June 1993

 

HUNDREDS of frightened people fled from Liberia’s Harbel district yesterday after a massacre of civilians at the weekend, which left about 300 people dead and 700 wounded.

Brigadier John Adda, the Ghanaian deputy commander of Ecomog, the West African force sent to try to end Liberia’s civil war, blamed the rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor for the massacre.

“The action of the rebels should reveal to the world the kind of people Ecomog is dealing with,” he told reporters. Mr Taylor denies the accusation, calling it a pretext for Ecomog to launch a new offensive against him.

Despite the condemnation of Mr Taylor’s forces by the six countries whose troops are participating in the peacekeeping force, differences between the allies are increasingly surfacing as’ they become dragged into all-out war with the rebels.

Despite strong objections from within the alliance, Nigeria, which dominates the 11,000-strong Ecomog force numerically and holds its key military positions, has amassed tanks and troops in preparation for a strike on the rebel headquarters at Gbarnga. Its planes have bombed rebel targets in the hope of killing Mr Taylor.

Military sources in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, say Nigerian domination lay behind Senegal’s decision to withdraw its troops last year, and say Nigeria’s military strategy is becoming increasingly unpopular with other states.

“The Nigerian mentality right from the beginning has been wrong,” one of Ghana’s most senior army officers with experience in Liberia said yesterday. “If you go into peacekeeping operations, it’s to get people round the table … They haven’t got the foggiest idea how to fight an insurgency.”

“It cannot be a perpetual exercise,” said Ghana’s information minister, Koffi Totobi Quakyi. “That is why Ghana is very anxious to find areas of compromise. Compromise lies in the hands of Charles Taylor …There’s a Nigerian passion to annihilate Taylor. Taylor is aware that the Ghanaian way of doing things is more accommodating, and is looking more at the way of achieving the end of having an election in Liberia.”

Ecomog was sent to Liberia in 1990 and halted the NPFL’s advance, thereby averting a worsening bloodbath in the capital, Monrovia. The force is now faced with bands, of NPFL guerrillas ambushing its troops and launching rocket attacks on its positions.

On Sunday, Ecomog discovered the mutilated bodies of 300 civilians believed to have been massacred by the rebels at Harbel, 40 miles from Monrovia. The slaughter comes two weeks after the NPFL publicly announced plans to wage a war of terror against civilians.

The three-year civil war has led to the emergence of a burgeoning number of militias and the disintegration of the country into fiefdoms controlled by warlords. A stalemate in negotiations and the birth of new groups with their own agendas have made Ecomog’s mandate of overseeing the disarmament of the warring sides, in the run-up to elections, impossible without first subduing those, like Mr Taylor, who have persistently reneged on peace agreements.

Regional political sources say Ghana is looking to host a fresh round of’ peace talks, though this has not been confirmed. A greater Ghanaian role in the negotiating process would be recognition of the appalling diplomatic failure of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), under whose authority the military force went to Liberia. Neither the current Ecowas chairman, Benin’s President Nicephore Soglo, nor its executive secretary Abbas Bundu, have established any substantial grounds for negotiations.

 

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