Sierra Leone takes fight to Liberia

Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 3 April 1991

GOVERNMENT troops from Sierra Leone invaded rebel-held territory in Liberia yesterday in response to a cross-border attack at the weekend.

Nineteen rebels loyal to Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) were killed in Sunday’s battle with troops in Sierra Leone’s south-eastern Kailahun district.

Fears that the Liberian civil war could spill over into neighbouring countries have been voiced since last October, when Mr Taylor was accused of harbouring dissidents from other West African states, including Sierra Leone, The Gambia, and Ghana.

The Sierra Leone government sent an extra 150 troops on Monday morning to reinforce the 2,000 who were sent to the border in January to guard against rebel incursions.

A Sierra Leone military spokesman said: “Our objective is to occupy parts of Lofa County, so that our border can be properly defended.”

The Sierra Leone President, Major-General Joseph Momoh, has made no secret of his antipathy towards Mr Taylor, whom he believes is trying – with Libyan backing – to destabilise governments in the region. Mr Taylor was temporarily imprisoned in Sierra Leone during the 1980s while seeking support for his war to overthrow the late Liberian leader, Samuel Doe.

Sierra Leone sent 500 troops to Liberia last September, as part of a peacekeeping force from the Economic Community of West African States. Mr Taylor, who has never accepted the legitimacy of the peacekeeping force, which he regards as an “army of occupation”, threatened to attack its troops in and outside Liberia.

Sunday’s rebel incursion, which is believed to have stemmed as much from the severe food shortages faced by rebels in north-west Liberia as from political motives, comes only days after NPFL delegates walked out of an All-Liberia peace conference in the capital, Monrovia, after failing to agree a peace formula for the war-torn country.

They claimed two of the three joint-chairmen, Monrovia’s catholic archbishop, Michael Francis, and Liberia’s Muslim spiritual leader, Sheikh Kafumba Koneh, were too strongly opposed to Mr Taylor for them to chair the conference fairly.

The weekend incursion by NPFL rebels is likely to increase pressure for a rapid solution from other West African countries, notably Nigeria and Ghana, whose troops make up the bulk of the peacekeeping force and who have become increasingly exasperated by Mr Taylor’s refusal to co-operate in the peace process.

Liberia’s current interim President, Dr Amos Sawyer, said two weeks ago that force could be used against Mr Taylor if he failed to encourage a peaceful solution.


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