Global Policy Forum

Liberian President Urges UN to Move


By Christopher S. Wren

New York Times
October 17, 2000

President Charles Taylor of Liberia has suggested that United Nations peacekeeping troops be allowed to move into rebel-held diamond-producing areas of Sierra Leone while the rebels return to the negotiations that were shattered in May by their breach of a peace accord. Mr. Taylor, who has been close to the Revolutionary United Front, as the insurgents in Sierra Leone call themselves, floated the proposal on Saturday to a Security Council mission that was visiting Liberia as part of a tour of five West African countries.

The proposal, which could be a significant step toward a peace pact in Sierra Leone, was conveyed to the Security Council in a closed session today by Britain's ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock. But there is an air of skepticism. Sir Jeremy compared President Taylor's gesture of cooperation to "the judgment of a poacher that if he becomes a gamekeeper rather than a poacher, he might do better." The Council dispatched the mission -- 11 senior diplomats from current and newly elected member countries -- to assess prospects for peace in Sierra Leone and the region.

Some Council members treated the proposal as possibly a tactical ploy by Mr. Taylor, who denies widespread allegations that he is prospering from diamond and arms trade with the rebels. "There's a great degree of skepticism about this," said James B. Cunningham, the deputy United States' representative at the United Nations, who accompanied the mission to West Africa. "Since Taylor put the idea rather explicitly on the table, we think it's something that can't be ignored, and should be followed up to see if there's any 'there' there," Mr. Cunningham said. "It's not prudent to ignore it."

Still, the proposal has coincided with some hints from the rebels themselves that they might be looking for a way out of the war they started, even letting the United Nations deploy peacekeepers in strategic areas rich in the diamonds that have financed their insurgency.

President Taylor stopped well short of saying under what conditions the United Nations force might deploy and what role the rebels wanted for themselves in returning to more conventional politics after ravaging Sierra Leone and committing atrocities against civilians. In the absence of such cooperation, the United Nations has embarked on a program of expanding its presence, now about 12,500 troops, helping to stabilize the Sierra Leone government and strengthening the military force assembled by a coalition of West African countries. It also helped set up a system to certify diamonds legally exported from Sierra Leone, in an effort to stifle international demand for illicit stones mined by the rebels.

The arrest last May of the rebel leader Foday Sankoh has reportedly weakened the insurgency, with factional leaders vying to succeed him. But the mission reported that more effective coordination was needed among United Nations peacekeepers, the government of Sierra Leone and its West African neighbors.

The Security Council wants to expand the peacekeeping presence in Sierra Leone to 20,500 troops, but has put off doing so until it can recruit qualified soldiers to replace a departing Indian contingent and can raise enough money to cover the additional peacekeeping costs.

Other West African leaders expressed exasperation to the mission over President Taylor's role in Sierra Leone. His denial of complicity in diamond and arms smuggling was, Sir Jeremy said, "unconvincing with all of our other interlocutors" during the mission, which visited Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Liberia.

The diplomats also looked into armed clashes along Guinea's border with Liberia and Sierra Leone and the refugee problem there. In addition to the British ambassador and American deputy ambassador, the mission included diplomats from Bangladesh, China, France, Jamaica, Mali, the Netherlands, Russia and Ukraine.

To see the full text of the report of the Security Council Mission to Sierra Leone, click here.

More Information on Sierra Leone


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