Sierra Leonean and allied forces push into Liberia




Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 6 September 1991

HEAVILY armed force which has been fighting a Liberian rebel invasion of Sierra Leone pushed 20 miles into Liberia yesterday after driving the rebels back, witnesses said.

A spokesman for Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) acknowledged that a joint force of Sierra Leonean and Liberian troops had moved into Liberia’s north-western Lofa county from Sierra Leone. Reports said the force had secured the key Mano River crossing between the two countries. Aid workers reported that NPFL rebels were outnumbered 10 to one and that hospitals had admitted many rebels with wounds.

The NPFL spokesman said the troops had pushed up as far as the town of Tiana. The NPFL had sent reinforcements to the area, he said.

Mr Taylor said on Tuesday that the United States had military advisers in Sierra Leone. The US sent equipment and advisers to Sierra Leone in May, on a request from the Sierra Leonean President, Major-General Joseph Momoh.

The main Liberian contigent in the anti-NPFL army is the Liberian United Defence Force (LUDF), made up of members of the Krahn tribe of Samuel Doe, the Liberian president killed by a rebel leader, Prince Johnson, a year ago.

The NPFL spokesman said, however, that many in the force came from the leftwing Movement For Justice in Africa (MOJA), led by Boima Fahnbulleh, an adviser to Liberia’s interim president, Dr Amos Sawyer. Dr Fahnbulleh’s group received instruction in Libya at the same time as the NPFL, Mr Taylor failing to dissuade the Libyans from training his rivals in the fight against Doe.

After the murder of Doe the LUDF was trained in Sierra Leone. Since NPFL rebels and Sierra Leonean dissidents invaded Sierra Leone on March 30, the LUDF has been in the forefront of the fighting. Nigerian troops sent to assist have remained in the background.

Reports from the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown said that Mr Taylor had split with the leader of the invasion of Sierra Leone, Foday Sankoh. Mr Sankoh, who fought alongside the NPFL and then used Mr Taylor’s territory from which to invade, had failed to advance beyond 50 miles into Sierra Leone. Mr Taylor has always denied involvement in the invasion, but appears to be suffering the backlash.

Yesterday’s invasion is likely to jeopardise attempts by the president of the Ivory Coast, Felix Houphouet-Boïgny, to bring the sides together. Mr Houphouet-Boïgny had suggested that a United Nations force disarm the armies, with French troops overseeing the laying down of weapons.

The invasion will also increase pressure on the West African peacekeeping force to remain in Liberia, and possibly take a more active role if the NPFL spreads the fighting to other parts of the country.


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