Global Policy Forum

Liberia Sanctions on Hold


By John Chiahemen

April 12, 2001

West African leaders gave Liberia on Wednesday what could be a vital breathing space as it faces the prospect of international sanctions for its alleged collaboration with Sierra Leone rebels. An emergency summit on escalating border violence in the region supported plans to deploy a multinational force along the troubled border shared by Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, but failed to agree on a date.

The summit decided to establish a monitoring mechanism to verify Liberia's compliance with UN orders on it to stop helping rebels waging a brutal 10-year war in neighbouring Sierra Leone. As part of the move, the one-day summit of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) agreed to send a special mission to Liberia on April 18, a final communique said. The mission comprising Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Togo and representatives of the Ecowas secretariat "will work closely with the United Nations team" of sanctions monitors, it said.

The UN Security Council voted to impose trade and travel sanctions on Liberia, it but gave the West African state up to May to stop trading "blood diamonds" that the United Nations says fund the war chest of Sierra Leone rebels. Liberia has consistently accused the world body of bias, and its delegates at the talks hailed the Ecowas decision to send in a verification mission. "I think that is a step in the right direction," Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan told Reuters. "It would take the verification out of the hands of a subjective party."

Verification mechanism not in place

Captan said the United Nations was yet to take the initiative on verification. "We don't want to see ourselves approaching the May (sanctions) deadline without a verification mechanism being put in place."

Diplomats said the summit's decision looked likely to be seen as pro-Liberian by Guinea and Sierra Leone, the two neighbours with which it is embroiled in border conflict. Guinea accuses Liberia of fomenting a seven-month-old insurgency in which at least 1000 people have died.

President Lansana Conte of Guinea boycotted the summit in Nigeria amid speculation that he perceives Ecowas as too soft on Liberian President Charles Taylor. Ecowas said officially that Conte was obliged to stay at home to monitor the border crisis. Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah flew to the summit reluctantly, according to diplomats, arriving after it was all over.

The communique said the summit expressed "great concern at the continuing tension" in the border region and the proliferation of irregular armed groups there. The heads of state reaffirmed their decision taken last December to deploy a 1700-strong force of soldiers from Niger, Nigeria and Senegal in the area. But the wording of the communique suggested Liberia and Guinea could be holding up the force's deployment by not signing the so-called Status of Forces Agreement.

The summit also agreed to set up a mediation committee comprising the presidents of Mali, Nigeria and Togo "to encourage a process of dialogue" among the three wrangling neighbours. The communique said Taylor had accepted a call by the heads of state to rescind his decision expelling the ambassadors of Guinea and Sierra Leone from Liberia.

More Information on Sierra Leone and Liberia
More Information on Sanctions


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