Global Policy Forum

Liberia Starts Mobilizing

April 9, 2001

Liberia has begun mobilizing thousands of fighters from its 1990s civil war to deal with an upsurge of fighting that has raised fears of a return to widespread bloodshed, military sources said on Monday. The new revolt in northern Liberia, which erupted last year, is part of a power struggle in a remote, diamond-rich corner of West Africa where forces from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia and several rebel groups are fighting a brutal, messy war.

The military sources said some 15,000 fighters of the now defunct National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), which former warlord Charles Taylor led until he won the 1997 presidential election, were being assembled for battle. ``We have been mandated by the chief (Taylor) to find a way of dealing with the dissidents,'' said one military source. ``We have started the mobilization in all the counties and we are getting a good response. Our aim is to get them (the dissidents) out of the country,'' the source added.

Liberia said last week that thousands of civilians were fleeing heavy fighting around the towns of Foya and Kolahun. The Liberian dissidents are a mix of former fighters from rebel factions opposed to Taylor in the civil war he started in 1989. Among them are some who fought for Sierra Leone's government in a 10-year war against rebels linked to Taylor.

Liberia says the dissidents are attacking from bases in Guinea -- the latest country to fall victim to the regional instability. At least 1,000 people are reported dead there in clashes since last September which Guinea blames on Taylor. Liberia, founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves, is under a U.N. arms embargo and painted as a pariah state for supporting Sierra Leone's rebels in exchange for diamonds.

A U.N. ban on diamond sales and foreign travel by senior officials is also on the cards if Liberia does not prove by May that it has stopped backing Sierra Leone's rebels. Liberia complains that it is being unfairly victimized. ``We are under arms embargo, but we will fight them (the dissidents) at all cost. We will capture weapons from them and we will fight them, no matter what they do,'' the military source said.

At its peak, Taylor's NPFL had an estimated 40,000 fighters. Like the other civil war factions, it was often accused by local people of committing atrocities. Its fighters also had a reputation for dressing in bizarre outfits to unnerve their enemies -- often wearing womens' wigs and sometimes dresses.

``I thought after seven brutal years of civil war, people would not still resort to war and go and kill themselves. To see Liberia go back to war is bad,'' said James Moor, director of the government's National Ex-combatants Association. ``I am disturbed that those ex-combatants that we should have settled are going back to the bush. I am disturbed,'' he told Reuters. ``They have to defend their country, so they have to go.''

More Information on Sierra Leone and Liberia
More Information on Diamonds in Conflict


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