Global Policy Forum

Liberia’s Taylor Still a Cloud Over Rebuilding Efforts

Associated Press
September 16, 2004

Ousted Liberian leader Charles Taylor will remain "a cloud" over international efforts to turn the war-battered west African nation into an economically vibrant democracy until he is brought to justice for alleged war crimes, the U.N. envoy to Liberia says. Taylor was indicted by a U.N.-backed war-crimes tribunal in June 2003 for his alleged support to rebels responsible for brutal atrocities during a decade-long civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. He was toppled from power two months later and has been living into exile in Nigeria.

Jacques Klein, the U.N. special representative to Liberia, told reporters after briefing the Security Council on Wednesday that bringing Taylor to justice "is key" to ending the impunity that has marked the last quarter-century of conflict and turmoil in the country. Taylor, a former warlord and Libyan-trained guerrilla, launched Liberia into conflict in 1989, when he led an insurgency to overthrow the government that killed an estimated 250,000 people over the next 14 years. He was elected president in 1997, and rebels took up arms against him two years later, but even though he is in exile he is still a player in Liberian politics.

"We know that there are people who commute basically between Monrovia and where he is," Klein said. "Now, he's no longer giving the guidance he did by telephone, for obvious reasons, but the messengers still go back and forth. And so he still is a cloud that hangs over much of what we do." The U.N. envoy said he also stressed to the council that "there's a hard core in Liberia who are totally opposed to everything we are doing because they say to themselves, very logically, we have no future here unless he returns."

"Then, there's a second tranche of people, also quite large, who are saying `I'm willing to make that commitment to Liberia and to assist the international community if I knew that he really was before the court in Sierra Leone -but until that happens I'm not necessarily going to stick my neck out,"' Klein said.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has refused to extradite Taylor, but has not ruled out compelling the former president to surrender to a future elected government in Liberia, if requested. People who have talked to the Nigerians "say as soon as there's a new government in Liberia, a newly freely democratic elected government next year, then they would entertain the notion of his return," Klein said.

The U.N. envoy said 3,000 Liberian university students are being hired to register voters next spring, and elections are scheduled next fall. But he said there is a serious question of whether a new democratic government will have "the gravitas or ... be united enough themselves to request his return."

"Ultimately you have to have justice," Klein said, noting that presidents and ministers in Liberia have been killed with impunity. "Under Taylor nobody paid. So I think bringing him to justice is key to all of this. It's ultimately the credibility of the international community as well that you cannot kill people and commit crimes allegedly, and have impunity from any punishment," he said.

Klein said he also told the council of progress being made in the last year, especially on disarming 71,000 combatants since December, including nearly 12,600 women, 4,900 boys and over 1,350 girls. But these ex-combatants now need jobs.

While Liberia has rich natural resources including rubber, timber, gold and diamonds, the capital Monrovia still has no electricity or running water and the country desperately needs good government institutions, international investment, and sustained financial support from the international community, Klein said. "You have to convince people that if you don't want to revisit a country time and again, you need to put in the resources to rebuild a stable society," he said.

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