Liberians train mercenaries in Burkina Faso




Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 19 December 1991

Liberian rebels are training a secret mercenary army in Burkina Faso. They have received fresh supplies of artillery from Libya which threaten to escalate the Liberian civil war as diplomatic efforts at achieving peace appear to have failed.

Intelligence sources in the Ivory Coast capital, Abidjan, said that a mercenary force was being trained at the Po military base south of the capital, Ouagadougou. The force included nationals from Liberia. Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. The Burkinabe government has denied any knowledge of the training though the force’s existence was confirmed yesterday by diplomatic sources in the Ivory Coast.

The Liberian rebel leader, Charles Taylor, whose National Patriotic Front of Liberia has been carrying out the training and who has relied on support and supplies from Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore throughout the two-year civil war, was in Ouagadougou last week, sources close to Mr Taylor confirmed.

Liberia’s interim government, which controls the capital, Monrovia, claims that recent calls by Mr Taylor for a new round of peace talks are a ploy to give him more time to carry out preparations for renewed fighting. The training camp appears to confirm these allegations. NPFL weapons have also been seen moving around in Mr Taylor’s territory, which comprises 90 per cent of the country, in preparation for possible conflict.

Sources in Abidjan confirmed yesterday that the NPFL received a supply of Libyan heavy weapons which was driven overland from Burkina Faso to Liberia through Ivory Coast two weeks ago.

Ivory Coast, which has hosted four rounds of peace talks since August under the chairmanship of its President Felix Houphouët-Boigny, is increasingly concerned about its failure to stem arms supplies through its territory and about the possibility of renewed fighting spilling over its border from Liberia.

“The Ivory Coast is really, really worried about the situation. They sense that Taylor is waiting until he can take military action, and they are seriously worried-about their own internal security,” one diplomat in Abidjan said yesterday.

Mr Houphouët-Boigny, who was initially prepared to see Mr Taylor use supply lines in Ivory Coast to overthrow the late Liberian president, Samuel Doe, appears to have lost much of his influence over Mr Taylor. The Ivory Coast president, who is thought to have been instrumental in installing Mr Compaore as president in Burkina Faso, is also losing influence with his northern neighbour.

Both factors are increasing the urgency of peace talks, and it now appears that France is keen to play a stronger diplomatic role.

Sources in Mr Taylor’s territory say French engineers recently installed a powerful radio transmitter for the rebel leader.

Ivory Coast is France’s closest ally in west Africa, and the French government is keen to improve its image among its former African colonies who believe they are being deserted by their former ruler.

However, there is growing concern about France playing a role in the diplomatic process, as it will be seen as potentially polarising countries of the region into English and French-speaking camps.


© Guardian Newspapers. All rights reserved