UN Urged to Reaffirm Liberia Timber Sanctions


By Sudarsan Raghavan

Contra Costa Times
February 14, 2004

A senior U.N. official recommended Friday that sanctions on the sale of Liberian timber remain because the logging and sales of prized trees still might be used to resuscitate a civil war that killed and displaced tens of thousands.

Liberia now has the best hope of peace in 15 years, but rebels and companies continue to export illegal timber, and the embargo should be retained until a stable government is in place with a strong, independent environmental protection agency, the official said. "As long as this is not there, the risk is high that you will go on with illegal logging," said Klaus Toepfer, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program. He added that stopping the misuse of natural resources "is central to preventing additional conflict in Liberia."

Millions of dollars from the sale of timber and the mining of diamonds by former President Charles Taylor and his inner circle as well as rebel factions fueled the civil war in Liberia and in neighboring Sierra Leone. In 2001, the United Nations imposed sanctions on sales of Liberian "blood diamonds." The warring factions soon turned to logging to pay for arms and soldiers. In August, Taylor stepped down and went into exile in Nigeria.

A transitional power-sharing government, led by businessman Gyude Bryant, is running Liberia until democratic elections can be held, but the U.N. Security Council voted in December to retain an arms embargo and bans on importing Liberian diamonds and timber. Activists say the illegal logging continues. This week, the Save My Future Foundation, a Liberian environmental group, issued a report accusing a local timber company and the rebel group the Movement for Democracy in Liberia of illegally exporting timber to Senegal.

More Information on the Security Council
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