Liberia – Coup – 1980
In 1980 Tolbert’s opponents, emboldened by a court decision recognizing them as an opposition party, openly called for his overthrow. Their leader, Gabriel B. Matthews, and a dozen others were arrested in March 1980.
On 12 April 1980, a bloody coup was staged by army personnel under the leadership of Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe. Doe’s forces executed President William R. Tolbert. More than a dozen officials of the previous regime, mostly of Americo-Liberian descent, were publicly executed. A People’s Redemption Council (PRC), headed by Doe, subsequently suspended the constitution and assumed full legislative and executive powers. Americo-Liberian political domination ended with the formation of the People’s Redemption Council. Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe was a indigenous Liberian from the Krahn ethnic group. The top coup leaders were Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, who was announced head of State; Sergeant Thomas Weh-Syen, Vice Head of State; and Sergeant Thomas Quiwonkpa, “Strongman of the Revolution” as Commanding General of the Armed Forces of Liberia.
Political parties remained banned until 1984. Elections were held on 15 October 1985, in which Doe’s National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) was declared winner. The elections were characterized by widespread fraud and rigging. The period after the elections saw increased human rights abuses, corruption, and ethnic tensions.
Doe’s government increasingly adopted an ethnic outlook, as members of his Krahn ethnic group soon dominated political and military life in Liberia. This caused a heightened level of ethnic tension leading to frequent hostilities between the politically and militarily dominant Krahns and other ethnic groups in the country. The Doe regime was an extraordinarily brutal one that not only disenfranchised many Liberians, it also effectively erased the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate political action.
Election and Coup Attempt – 1985
Thomas Quiwonkpa, a comrade of Samuel K. Doe in the 1980 coup, fell out with Doe. Some analysts suggested that both the power struggle and the personal conflict between Doe and Quiwonkpa were rooted in the cultural and traditional differences between the Krahn and Dan/Mano ethnic groups. General Quiwonkpa and close allies Prince Johnson and Charles Taylor, fled the country in November 1983.
General Quiwonkpa went into exile to the United States, and many of his supporters, mainly, decommissioned security personnel, took refuge in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire where they began training to engage the Doe dictatorship. When the Gios and Manos of Nimba County – led by Jackson Doe and General Quiwonkpa — ran into political conflict with the Krahn ethnic group — led by the President Samuel K. Doe — the conflict was quickly taken over by individuals in the United States who did not belong to these tribes.
Under pressure from the United States and other creditors, in July 1984 Doe’s government issued a new constitution that allowed the return of political parties outlawed since 1980. The lifting of the ban on political activities on 26 July 1984 marked the beginning of a multi-party election campaign after more than four years of military rule in Liberia. Samuel Doe, the military Head of State, established a political party and presented his candidacy for the presidential elections. Doe’s National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) was a constituency composed of ethnic groups and individuals who were dependent on him, such as his own ethnic group [the Krahn] and the Mandingo people. Both groups were small and lacked political influence. Another component in his constituency was the Americo-Liberian minority, which had been ousted from power in the April 1980 coup.
The presidential election of 15 October 1985 featured five different political parties, with televised debates involving all five candidates. The 1985 election commission said President Doe got 51 percent of the vote, and the opposition shared the remaining 49 percent. But many observers charged that President Doe stole the 1985 presidential election. The elections were characterized by widespread fraud and rigging. There were a variety of objections and road blocks used by Mr. Doe’s Party (through the Monthly and Probate Court of Montserrado County) to prevent and/or delay the registration of other political parties. Amos Sawyer, the leader of the Liberian People’s Party (LPP), who enjoyed great popularity because of his unwavering criticism of corruption and illegal actions, was prevented from engaging in any political activities.
The period after the elections saw increased human rights abuses, corruption, and ethnic tensions. Some said that the resulting civil conflict was the reaction of the Liberian people to the rigging of the election. Some called for the United States to intervene in Liberia to remove President Samuel Doe after he was elected.
On 12 November 1985, former Army Commanding Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa invaded Liberia by way of neighboring Sierra Leone. Quiwonkpa almost succeeded in toppling the government of Samuel Doe. Members of the Krahn-dominated Armed Forces of Liberia repelled Quiwonkpa’s attack and executed him in Monrovia. Edward Slanger, at the head of a group of AFL soldiers, claimed on television that they captured and killed Thomas Quiwonkpa. They paraded his body parts around Monrovia in a grisly ritual that Liberians will remember for years. Others were put on trial, and many were summarily executed. When the Gio general was killed in the abortive coup, little was heard from his sponsors. Doe’s government launched a bloody purge against the Gio and Mano ethnic groups in Quiwonkpa’s Nimba County, raising alarm about genocide against the Gio and Mano. Taylor, who was related by marriage to Quiwonkpa, benefited from the alienation of the Nimba population, which later became willing recruits to his cause. Mano-Gio perceptions of the Mandingo alliance with the Doe regime put Mandingos in the category of the enemy at the time of the attempted 1985 coup. After the failed coup attempt, the Mandingos were accused of complicity in the anti-Mano/Gio witch hunting. The Mandingos did not accepted responsibility for the perceived persecution of the Mano and Gio people during Doe’s regime.
The ruling National Democratic Party of Liberia captured 73 out of 90 seats in the National Assembly election of 15 October 1985, but some opposition members refused to occupy their seats. The remaining opposition members were expelled from their parties in 1986. All of the vacant seats were captured by the NDPL in the partial election in December 1986. Consequently, the National Assembly was without opposition in the end of 1986.
American aid spending on sub-Saharan Africa were at high levels through the mid-1980s due to the global competition with the Soviet Union. As the competition with the Soviet Union began to fade, and as efforts to reduce the US budget deficit intensified, there were overall reductions in assistance to the region. Policymakers increasingly focused on human rights and economic reform performance in making decisions on aid allocations. Aid to some African countries that had been major Cold War aid recipients — notably Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Liberia, was sharply reduced. The reductions took place almost entirely within the security-oriented programs: military assistance and especially the Economic Support Fund (ESF).
Liberia – First Civil War – 1989-1996
The Liberian Civil War, which was one of Africa’s bloodiest, claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and further displaced a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries.
Elections are scheduled for 1991. But late in 1989, severe communal violence broke out after a failed coup attempt against Doe. Several hundred members of the Gio and Mano tribes, that had been ill-treated by Doe, revolted in the northeast.
On December 24, 1989, a small band of Libyan-trained rebels led by Charles G. Taylor, invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast. Taylor, Doe’s former procurement chief, is an Americo-Liberian of both indigenous and Americo-Liberian ancestry. He graduated from Bentley College in Massachusetts and is said to have tastes that run to fine suits and silk ties. With explicit support from neighboring African nations and a large section of Liberia’s opposition, Taylor’s National Patriotic Front rebels rapidly gained the support of Liberians because of the repressive nature of Samuel Doe and his government. Various unpredictable events, like the Gulf war and the consequent US disengagement from Liberia, coincided to turn this into a protracted civil war, with ultimately West African ECOMOG intervention. A final cease-fire and peace accord in 1996 was followed by the installation of a transitional government of all factional leaders.
Liberian troops and provincial security forces were dispatched to Nimba County to counter the insurgency and indiscriminately killed Liberian civilians without regard to the distinction between combatants and noncombatants. In response to this insurgency, President Doe launched an unrelenting wave of violence against the inhabitants of Nimba County. Media reports and international human rights organizations estimated that at least 200 persons, primarily members of the Mano and Gio ethnic groups, were killed by troops of the Government of Liberia during the counterinsurgency campaign.
When the cold war was over and Charles Taylor’s band of rebels–some of them children–clashed with government forces and other ethnic militias in the streets, the resulting conflict was so frighteningly gruesome that for many it was almost impossible to understand. Between December 1989 and mid-1993, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) is estimated to have been responsible for thousands of deliberate killings of civilians. As NPFL forces advanced towards Monrovia in 1990, they targeted people of the Krahn and Mandingo ethnic groups, both of which the NPFL considered supporters of President Doe’s government.
ECOMOG troops, predominantly from Nigeria and Ghana, entered Monrovia — and prolonged the war by aiding Doe’s troops. This resulted in a daily massacre of non-Krahn Liberians in Monrovia by Doe’s Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) men.
Although the sources of the Liberian conflict are complex, on one level it represents an attempt by Americo-Liberians to re-establish themselves as the dominant political force in Liberia. The war was not about tribes seeking dominance over one another. Charles Taylor led the invasion into Liberia in the name of trying to right the wrong for the Gios and Manos. This was the motivator for the two ethnic groups who joined the movement. When the Taylor rebels entered Nimba County, their home, the conflict quickly drew in the Mandingoes, who are mostly Muslims. The Gio tribe soon formed their own separate rebel forces under Prince Johnson, and a bloody three-way civil war began.
Sam Dokie and other prominent individuals of Nimba County initially welcomed the Taylor/Sirleaf-Johnson rebel incursion into Liberia to resist Doe’s Krahn ethnic fighters. The County leaders rapidly mobilized young men to join the rebel forces believing that Taylor was sincere when he said the sole purpose of his attack was to remove the tyrant, Samuel K. Doe from power. After discovering Taylor’s plans for the Liberian people, Dokie and others separated themselves from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia [NPFL]. Dokie along with his wife and two others were brutally murdered by Taylor’s NPFL-controlled Security forces.
As the fighting escalated into civil war, three distinct factions became engaged in a national power-struggle: forces loyal to Doe, and two mutually opposed rebel groups led by Charles Taylor and Prince Yormie Johnson. Taylor, a former Doe aide, and Johnson had started their campaign under the same banner, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Tribal affiliations played a key role in the split between the Krahn, to which Doe and most of his adherents belonged, and the Gio and Mano people, who formed the bulk of the rebel forces. Fighting between Doe’s troops and the Taylor/Johnson axis began at the end of 1989. Johnson assumed the presidency temporarily during September 1989, after which it passed through several hands, settling for a time in those of Amos Sawyer, who managed to pacify some parts of the country.
Libya may have used the Liberian civil war to undermine US influence in Liberia, since the CIA had reportedly used Liberia as a base to attempt the overthrow of Gadaffi’s regime. Burkina Faso’s president Blaise Campaori, another Libyan protégé, provided foreign mercenaries and training bases for Taylor. Military supplies and manpower from Libya and Burkina Faso were transported by road through the Ivory Coast to Liberia.
One of the factors that drove the warlords to reject a transition to normalcy was their exploitation of Liberia’s natural resources. Once the war started, Taylor found wealth, and the war was increasingly about maintaining that fortune. The warlords were wantonly exploiting their country’s resources to keep themselves and their ragtag forces in weapons with virtual impunity, and in some cases complicity. The primary sources of revenue for these warlords were Liberia’s diamonds, timber, rubber, gold, and iron ore. Timber and rubber are among Liberia’s main export items. Liberia earns more than $85 million and more than $57 million annually from timber and rubber exports, respectively. Alluvial diamond and gold mining activities also account for some economic activity.
Barely 6 months after the rebels first attacked, they had reached the outskirts of Monrovia. Liberia has been marked by intermittent civil war ever since. Although many Liberians were glad to see Doe’s repressive regime removed, no group that emerged from the civil war was powerful enough to replace the Doe government. As a result, the Republic of Liberia was plunged into a state of chaos from which it has yet to emerge.
Despite a cease-fire agreement signed in Bamako, Mali, in 1990, the civil war never really ended.
Prince Johnson, who had been a member of Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) but broke away because of policy differences, formed the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL). Johnson’s forces captured and killed Doe on September 9, 1990.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened and succeeded in preventing Charles Taylor from capturing Monrovia. An Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) was formed in Gambia under the auspices of ECOWAS in October 1990 and Dr. Amos C. Sawyer became President. Sawyer was backed by a Nigerian-led peacekeeping force, known as ECOMOG (ECOWAS Monitoring Group). Taylor refused to work with the interim government and continued the war.
The war spilled over into Sierra Leone in 1991, when Foday Sankoh led a mixed group of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans into Kailahun in eastern Sierra Leone. President Momoh’s troops attempted to train a fighting force from among the 250,000 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone. The ex-Liberian Broadcasting Corporation head, Alhaji Kromah, organized Mandingo Muslims and Krahn refugees in Freetown to form the United Liberation Movement of Liberia (ULIMO).
The Krahns and Mandingoes became the direct targets of Taylor’s NPFL group. In neighboring Sierra Leone, refugees of these two tribes led other tribes in organizing the ULIMO faction and returned to Liberia. It was this group in 1992 that helped the West African ECOMOG peacekeeping force stop the takeover of Monrovia by Taylor’s NPFL rebels.
With the escalation of violence that began in August 1992 it seemed as if even the limited peace Liberia possessed had been completely shattered. The re-emergence of overt civil war threatened to return Liberia to the state of terror and brutality that prompted Africa Watch monitors to call Liberia a “human rights disaster.” By 1992, several warring factions had emerged in the Liberian civil war [all of which were eventually absorbed in the new government]. Roads leading out from Monrovia were not open for travel except for very limited pre-approved trips into Cape Mount and Bomi counties. Travelers, including US citizens, had been detained, harassed and delayed by forces of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Five US citizen nuns were killed in Gardnersville by NPFL Troops in October 1992. Roberts International Airport outside of Monrovia was closed. Limited air service existed only between Spriggs Payne Field in Monrovia and Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, and Freetown, Sierra Leone. No major international air carrier served Spriggs Payne Field. Overland routes to other West African countries were not open.
In January 1993 a security buffer around Monrovia was re-established by forces of the West African Peace Monitoring Group. The authority of the interim government never extended beyond Monrovia’s suburbs. ECOMOG defended the city, which became a civilian safe haven with as many as a million people at some points.
Taylor and his NPFL guerrillas – mostly from the Gio and Mano peoples who are historic rivals of the Krahn – kept fighting. To complicate matters further, at least three new guerrilla formations appeared as both Taylor’s NPFL and its main opponents split into factions. A peace accord signed in the Beninois capital, Cotonou, in the spring of 1994 was quickly forgotten.
The United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia split in 1994 between ULIMO-J (mainly Krahn ethnics headed by Roosevelt Johnson) et ULIMO-K (mainly Mandingo ethnics headed by Alhaji Kromah).
Liberia’s seven warring factions — including the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), the United Liberation Movement with two wings referred to as ULIMO-J and ULIMO-K, the Liberia Peace Council, NPFL-CRC, the Lofa Defense Force and remnants of the Armed Forces of Liberia loyal to former president Samuel K. Doe — continued to fight. In September 1995, after failing to honor more than 13 signed peace accords, under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African State, a Liberian Council of State comprising the seven warring factions was formed under the Abuja Peace Accord. Throughout January and February 1996, the deployment of UNOMIL and ECOMOG forces to monitor the peace process is stalled due to a lack of funding and political will.
During the first week of April 1996, the failure of the Council of State to resolve internal power struggles led to a resumption of fighting in Monrovia. In April 1996, the Liberian Council of State sent police-militia to arrest Prince Johnson on murder charges. As a direct result, fighting erupted in Monrovia between ‘government forces’ and LPC, AFL and ULIMO-J fighters loosely allied under Johnson and based at Barclay Training Centre. Johnson’s forces took 600 civilians as ‘human shields’. Some 1,500 people were killed in the clashes that lasted seven weeks.
On 17 August 1996, after 134 days of killing and mayhem, Nigeria and other West African states brokered a cease fire between the warring factions. Taylor emerged the dominant power, winning the 1997 presidential election. ECOMOG was dominated by Nigerian forces. General Sani Abacha, the corrupt ruler of Nigeria, enjoyed a good rapport with Taylor. Abacha persuaded Taylor to agree to the ceasefire and to participate in the election. But Taylor was not as popular with other military leaders in Nigeria as he had been with Abacha.
It took seven years of intertribal warfare and of repeatedly broken cease-fires, for the combined efforts of neighboring African countries and of the UN to impose a settlement and to organize elections. Disarmament in January 1997 was followed by democratic elections in July, which were won by Charles Taylor with 75% of the vote.
President Taylor firmly established lasting peace internally and, once achieved, has started increasingly to welcome back to the country opposition of all kinds, including most former warlords. He undertook a constructive role in the Sierra Leone conflict, which had been started more or less simultaneously, proposing that all sides involved should be given a fair chance of participating in future elections. These efforts had resulted in the present UN-monitored disarmament process in Sierra Leone and a general return of peace in the sub-region. It also earned Liberia credit and re-establishment of diplomatic relations, as well as a constructive review of the economy by Washington institutions.
While President Taylor’s first two years in office demanded strenuous efforts to reconcile different factions, maintain peace, avoid post war excesses, and establish dialogue with Nigerian-led ECOMOG who were still fighting rebels in Sierra Leone, the tide had clearly turned since mid 1999. With the UN peace mission in Sierra Leone, the sub-region seemed finally set to recover after the decade of unrest which followed ten years of steep decline. Having achieved ‘sustainability’ of government, the time had finally come for sustained economic development.
The 1989-1996 civil war had a devastating effect on the country’s economy. Most major businesses were destroyed or heavily damaged, and most foreign investors and businessmen left the country. Iron ore production has stopped completely, and Liberia depends heavily on timber and rubber exports and revenues from its maritime registry program. Relatively few foreign investors have returned to the country since the end of the civil war due to the depressed business climate and continuing instability.
Liberia is still trying to recover from the ravages of war. Six years after the war, pipe-borne water and electricity are still unavailable, and schools, hospitals, roads, and infrastructure remain derelict. As a result of the civil war, there were 157,000 IDP’s in approximately 36 camps in 1997. International agencies and the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) have been able to resettle approximately 126,243 displaced persons since 1998. In October 2000 fighting in northern Lofa county further increased the number of displaced persons. There were an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 IDP’s in the country at the end of 2000.
Young persons were victimized during the civil war of the mid-1990s. An estimated 50,000 children were killed; many more were injured, orphaned, or abandoned. Approximately 100 underfunded orphanages operated in and around Monrovia; however, many orphans lived outside these institutions. The National Military Families Association of Liberia (NAMFA) tried to provide for orphaned military children; it registered hundreds of street children. These institutions did not receive any government funding, but relied on private donations. Nearly all youths witnessed terrible atrocities, and some committed atrocities themselves. Approximately 21 percent (4,306) of the combatants who were disarmed under the provisions of the Abuja Peace Accords were child soldiers under the age of 17. Many youths remained traumatized, and some still were addicted to drugs. The number of street children in Monrovia and the number of abandoned infants increased significantly following disarmament. Although pressured by the Government to cease their programs, international NGOs and UNICEF continued retraining and rehabilitation programs for a limited number of former child fighters. These children were vulnerable to being recruited in subregional conflicts, since most had no other means of support.
Liberia – Second Civil War – 1997-2003
After considerable progress in negotiations conducted by the United States, United Nations, Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), disarmament and demobilization of warring factions were hastily carried out and special elections were held on 19 July 1997 with Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Party emerging victorious. Taylor won the election by a large majority, primarily because he had controlled most of Liberia outside of Monrovia for several years, and his opponents in the election had limited campaign resources. The elections were administratively free and transparent, but were conducted in an atmosphere of intimidation, because most voters believed that Taylor’s forces would have resumed fighting if he had lost.
The regular security forces included: The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL); the Liberia National Police (LNP), which has primary responsibility for internal security; the Antiterrorist Unit (ATU), composed of an elite special forces group consisting predominately of foreign nationals from Burkina Faso and The Gambia, as well as former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) combatants from Sierra Leone; and the Special Security Service (SSS), a large, heavily armed executive protective force. The ATU absorbed Taylor’s most experienced civil war fighters, including undisciplined and untrained loyalists. There also were numerous irregular security services attached to certain key ministries and parastatal corporations, the responsibilities of which appeared to be defined poorly.
Two opposition groups, controlling between 60 and 80 percent of the country, attempted to oust Taylor from power. The main opposition group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), had been fighting President Taylor since 1999 and had grown from a northern-based insurgent movement to a force that now controls the majority of the country. The second opposition group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), based in southern Liberia, began incursions into Liberia from Côte d ’Ivoire in April 2003 resulting in large-scale population displacement. Years of conflict have had devastating consequences for the humanitarian situation in Liberia, which is currently ranked 174 out of 175 counties by the UN World Human Development Index, which measures health and living conditions.
As of September 1999 there was a relatively low incidence of random violence in Liberia, considering that the country was emerging from a long and bitter war. However, the indiscipline and material deprivation among members of the various units of the security forces was a problem for refugees and ordinary Liberian citizens, including returnees. The continued withholding of official development assistance to Liberia by major bilateral donors and lending agencies had severely stunted Liberia’s national reconstruction program. It left the government without the means to support public sector services, and to establish vital government institutions in most of rural Liberia, where the majority of people live.
The insurgencies that affected Lofa County in April and August 1999 constituted a major setback for Liberia. Lofa County was the single largest refugee (Sierra Leoneans) relief zone in Liberia as well as the single largest County of return for Liberian refugees, mainly from Guinea. The disturbances caused looting, theft, and destruction of infrastructure and equipment in Lofa County. Refugees scattered over a wide area as they sought to flee from Kolahun; and the general security situation and logistics constraints during this peak rainy season did not permitted assistance to reach them in the immediate period. The insurgencies were also a major setback for national reconciliation and the peacebuilding process in Liberia, with the Mandingo population being accused of collaboration with the insurgents from Guinea. The incidents prolonged the reluctance of investors to take risks on Liberia, and they did not favor the flow of official development aid to the country.
Former RUF leader, Sam Bockarie, and several hundred of his supporters took refuge in Liberia early in December 1999. President Taylor denied that the Government was training the RUF fighters or that it has been supplying them with arms. He claimed that the ECOWAS leadership permitted these arrangements in order to advance the implementation of the Sierra Leone peace process. A coalition of civic, religious, and political groups repeatedly asked for President Taylor to expel the RUF rebels and disassociate the Government from them. The United States imposed a travel ban on senior Liberian Government officials in 2001 because of the government’s support to the RUF.
The Security Council of the United Nations applied limited sanctions on Liberia due primarily to the Government of Liberia’s continued support of the RUF and widespread bloodshed it caused in Sierra Leone and Guinea. The three specific sanctions applied are: an arms importation ban; a ban on foreign travel by ranking members of this government and their immediate families; and a ban on trading illicit or so-called “blood” diamonds, as they are often called.
In 1999 after a series of raids and attacks by security forces and dissidents bases in Guinea, a group of Sierra Leonean refugees migrated south from northern Lofa county towards another established refugee camp in Sinje. Liberia accused Guinea of backing rebels who have fought the Liberian Government to a standstill in the north. Fighting and looting on both sides of the Liberian-Ivoirian border has been fomented between members of the respective Krahn and Guere ethnic groups with their Gio and Yacouba neighbors.
Several hundred UN peacekeepers were taken hostage by the Sierra Leone RUF (see under Sierra Leone). Although later set free through the active intervention of President Taylor, this assistance backfired. Combined with the President’s well known explicit support for a political role to be granted to the RUF, he was linked to rumors that Liberia’s government was actively involved in the supply of arms to the RUF, as well as the purchase of conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone. President Taylor became increasingly accused of being responsible for the protracted Sierra Leone conflict.
The UK, determined to find a quick solution to the Sierra Leone situation, in concert with NGOs and diamond lobbies and fully supported by the USA, embarked on a campaign to isolate Liberia. It succeeded in getting EU aid cut off and affected US support, to such an extent, it was rumored, as to implicitly encourage exiled opponents to the present government to create renewed border clashes and thereby further exacerbate Liberia’s already weakened position.
Opposition to Taylor and his government emerged. Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) began attacks on government targets in northern and western Liberia. LURD has been fighting government security forces in Lofa County along Liberia’s border with Guinea. Unrest at times has spread beyond the border area into western and central Liberia. Fighting intensified during 2001 between the security forces and the LURD. Neither the Government of Liberia nor the LURD appeared capable of a military victory. The LURD and many expatriate opposition groups have insisted that President Taylor leave office and that an interim government assume power, while the President insists on staying in power until the end of his term.
Violent conflict has continued between the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy in northern Liberia, mostly in Lofa County. The overall situation continued to deteriorate in 2002 as sporadic fighting and insecurity hindered the efforts of relief agencies to reach vulnerable populations.
The various armed militias continued to recruit forcibly underage soldiers. During the LURD offensive in May 2002, government troops forcefully conscripted several dozen young men from the streets of Monrovia, took them to military camps where they were armed, and sent them to the battle zone. Secondary school boys were targeted for such operations in the Red Light and Duala neighborhoods of the capital. Families in rural areas claimed that their missing sons also returned after several months and reported that they had been seized and forced to fight LURD rebels. There were credible reports that the LURD engaged in similar forced recruitment tactics. On June 20, LURD forces abducted five Liberian nurses. The nurses were released to UNHCR on September 2, following weeks of negotiations. On August 21, Government of Liberia (GOL) troops arrested and detained a MERCI employee near the border with Sierra Leone. The relief worker was released on August 30.
President Charles Taylor launched a national peace and reconciliation conference in Monrovia on August 24, without major opposition leaders in attendance. On September 14, President Taylor lifted the government-imposed ban on political rallies and public gatherings, and on September 18, the GOL began removing soldiers from the streets of Monrovia after lifting the state of emergency imposed in February 2002.
From February 8 until September 14, 2002, the Government operated under a state of emergency that suspended some civil liberties such as peaceful assembly in response to the armed insurgency of a rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). The Government used the provisions of the state of emergency to stop all support for rebel goals, real or imagined. Fighting between government forces and LURD insurgents spread from the border areas towards Monrovia during the first half of the year and culminated in several pitched battles for key towns; however, by October 2002 the Government reoccupied most of the country’s territory. As fighting with the LURD rebels spread and moved south, there were credible reports that government forces, especially the ATU, as well as members of the Lorma ethnic group continued to harass, intimidate, detain, and kill members of the Mandingo ethnic group and other suspected LURD sympathizers.
By November 2002 relief agencies estimated there were nearly 130,000 IDPs in more than a dozen camps in 5 separate counties. The number of IDPs increased by approximately 70,000 during the year due to conflicts in Lofa, Bong, Bomi, Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu Counties. International and local NGOs had limited funding and resources to assist these IDPs. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported from mid-year estimates that there were approximately 107,000 Liberian refugees in Guinea, 71,000 in Cote d’Ivoire, 38,000 in Sierra Leone, 11,000 in Ghana, and 3,000 in other countries.
The International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL) was very clear on where to start on achieving a better future for Liberia. First, on the war, the Contact Group urged both the Government of Liberia and the LURD to enter immediately and without any preconditions into negotiations on a cease-fire. The Contact Group also welcomed Mali as a mediator on behalf of ECOWAS. However, the ICGL wanted to see the Government and the LURD negotiate a cease-fire. The ICG is focused on facilitating a cease-fire with the LURD, fostering security guarantees between the Mano River states, and between Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, creating a comprehensive program for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR), and restructuring and re-training the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and the national police.
As of March 2003 the International Contact Group on Liberia concluded that conditions for a free and fair election did not exist in Liberia. US Ambassador John W. Blaney’s March 20 press conference remarks added that the United States “will not recognize the results of any fraudulent election.” The Ambassador urged the Government of Liberia to welcome a United Nations needs assessment team which “offers a last opportunity for Liberia to move quickly and convincingly towards genuine free and fair elections.” The Ambassador emphasized that the Contact group wanted to see the issue of the cease-fire, a stabilization force and the upcoming elections addressed in a comprehensive manner. He added that this was necessary because “no one is interested in sending a force to hold the situation stable while there is a crooked election conducted.” The United States expected all government, LURD and MODEL forces to exercise restraint during the negotiating period by ordering their respective forces to assume more defensive force postures.
By late May 2003 more than 10,000 Liberians had been forced in recent days to flee for their lives from southeastern Liberia, joining the already overflowing ranks of the displaced and refugees. On 22 May 2003 the United States called on all combatants, including the Government of Liberia and those calling themselves “Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development” (LURD) and “Movement for Democracy in Liberia” (MODEL), to cease their campaigns of violence, and to spare the lives and property of innocent civilians.
By late May 2003 the security situation in Liberia, including the capital Monrovia, was at its worst since the first rebel insurgency in 1999. On-going fighting between government troops and rebels had increased. Although internal travel restrictions no longer appeared to be imposed by the Liberian government, a nationwide state of emergency has been declared by the President of Liberia. Approximately 12,000 displaced persons had arrived in Monrovia, taxing food and shelter resources and there had been a large influx of returnees from the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) causing further instability. Rebel forces were reported near the capital. Continuing violence between various Liberian factions, and rebel activity spilling over from Guinea, made the areas bordering Sierra Leone and Guinea dangerous and unstable. Crime was high in the capital, Monrovia, with theft and assault prevalent, particularly at night. Police forces were ill-equipped to provide effective protection.
As of early June 2003 rebels were engaged in clashes with government troops in a number of areas throughout the country. The President of Liberia had called for the resignation of his cabinet, which may lead to further instability. Due to the fighting, principal roads to Sierra Leone and Guinea, and from Monrovia to the western part of the country, are closed. Travel over many other roads has become prohibitively dangerous. There is also a high threat of common crime. The presence of heavily armed government security personnel constituted a serious danger as well. Military roadblocks throughout the country serve as potential flash points. Furthermore, periodic inflammatory statements in the local media regarding US policies and presence in Liberia could also incite violence against American interests.
On June 4, 2003, a UN-backed court in Sierra Leone announced that it had indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and issued an international warrant for his arrest. Under the indictment, Mr. Taylor was charged with “bearing the greatest responsibility” for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law” in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996. The Special Court, created through an international agreement between the United Nations and Sierra Leone, was mandated to try those who bore “the greatest responsibility” for atrocities committed during the country’s civil war. But with Ghanian authorities not warned in advance of the announcement, Taylor managed to leave Ghana and fly back to Liberia following the announcement. He had been attending the start of Liberian peace talks being held in the country.
By mid-June 2003, LURD forces controlled two-thirds of Liberia. The rebels advanced on Monrovia, and it appeared the country would return to civil war. Rebel forces demanded that Taylor resign within three days, or else the rebels would renew and step up attacks on Monrovia. Tensions increased, which led to French troops evacuating 500 European and US citizens. The Red Cross reported at least 150,000 people had fled Monrovia in anticipation of renewed civil war. Taylor’s government asked for the international community to intervene by way of a peacekeeping force. The Economic Community of West African States dispatched mediators, and by 11 June 2003 tensions seemed to ease, both Taylor and rebel forces agreed to a truce. The truce was taken as a sign that previously stalled peace talks in Ghana might continue. Tens of thousands of residents in the city who fled the offensive have sought shelter in sports stadiums and in schools, waiting for relief supplies. Liberian authorities said up to 400 people were killed in the rebel offensive.
The peace talks in Akosambo, Ghana, were arranged by the Special Mediator of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, following several bilateral meetings with the various delegations – chiefly the Liberian Government, the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), the Movement for Democracy and Elections in Liberia (MODEL), and the 18 political parties represented.
UN OCHA estimates that more than 220,000 people were currently displaced in Liberia as a result of the conflict. As a result of the recent increase in hostilities, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had lost contact with 40,000 Ivorian refugees, 43,000 Liberian returnees, and 50,000 third country nationals in Liberia. The number of refugees occupying the UNHCR building had risen from 350 to approximately 5,000. Repatriation operations for Sierra Leonean refugees stopped.
As of 14 June 2003, a U-S amphibious assault ship, the LHD-3 Kearsarge, was positioning itself in waters near Liberia in the eventuality it would be needed to evacuate the few Americans remaining at the American embassy in Monrovia.
A cease-fire was to agreed on June 17, 2003, by representatives of Liberia’s government and two rebel groups, as a forerunner to a transitional government which would exclude President Charles Taylor.
Despite an earlier pledge that he would step down if the act were to bring peace to the country, it became apparent that Taylor would not step down. Taylor announced he would continue his presidency until the end of his term which was due to expire in January 2004, and held out the possibility of running again in future elections. In an offensive begun on June 24, rebels began advancing on the center of the capital, Monrovia, effectively ending a week-old cease-fire agreement. Fighting was also reported to have taken place in the western port area of the capital.
With the collapse of the ceasefire on June 24, violent clashes between government and opposition forces have engulfed Monrovia. Large numbers of chronically displaced persons moved into the city to escape the fighting. Adding to the numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are residents of northern Monrovia who moved into the city center. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), sanitation conditions and access to safe drinking water are of growing concern in Monrovia, and the city is running short of supplies to accommodate the large population influx. Shelter, food, water, and medical care were not available, and many stores closed due to fears of looting.
On June 24, World Vision International (WVI) reported that the majority of displaced Monrovia residents at the SKD Stadium had returned to their homes, and, according to the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission, the original population of more than 60,000 at the stadium was reduced to 17,402. However, on June 25, WVI reported that the few IDPs who had returned to their former camps were moving back to central Monrovia, increasing the population at the Samuel K. Doe Sports (SKD) Stadium and schools in the capital. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), there were now 58,000 IDPs living at the stadium. The current population of Monrovia is approximately one million. The situation outside of Monrovia, where an even larger number of IDPs and refugees were without emergency aid, was equally despairing. According to UN OCHA, there were approximately 150,000 IDPs in seven camps near Monrovia. In addition, an estimated 70,000 IDPs in Bong, Margibi, and Grand Bassa counties are receiving humanitarian assistance. Approximately 17,000 Sierra Leone refugees were also being assisted in camps around Monrovia.
On June 26, government troops pushed LURD forces out of Bushrod Island, Monrovia’s deep water port, which was occupied by the opposition for one day. According to GOL military officials, opposition forces retreated to an area around St. Paul’s River Bridge, six miles from the center of the capital. Humanitarian workers report that approximately 300 people have been injured by bullets and shrapnel during the recent clashes. During the week, residents of Duala and New Kru town suburbs of Monrovia and in IDP camps in Seighbeh, VOA, and Plumkor reported armed robberies and incidents of rape committed at night by armed men. These residents are part of the mass movement into central Monrovia.
Reportedly, by June 26th 2003, fighting had claimed 200-300 lives and wounded 1,000. Rebels were said to have been seen around a number of strategic sites, including Monrovia’s port. The Liberian government claimed the rebels had been driven back 10 kilometers outside the city. The rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) were encamped at the gates of Monrovia, and their splinter group, MODEL, was bivouacked in the Southeast of the country.
Despite the violence, President Taylor said that peace talks in Accra would continue. However, according to the executive secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which helped broker the peace talks, the renewed fighting served to undo all efforts to bring an end to the conflict. West African mediators threatened to formally end the peace talks in Ghana if both sides did not observe the ceasefire by the morning of June 27. On June 27, LURD claimed to have called a new ceasefire, but fighting continued in Monrovia.
On June 30, 2003, the United Nations Security Council held closed-door consultations to discuss the possible deployment of a multi-national force to Liberia, following a request by Kofi Annan, the United Nations’ Secretary-General. Annan raised the prospect of US involvement; under the logic that such an intervention to prevent a major tragedy should be led by a Member State and be authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. West African mediators were also among those calling for a US military intervention.
With pressure increasing for President Bush to send troops to Liberia, the US administration was reported to be weighing the options available to it. Bush, once again called on the Charles Taylor to step down from power. Meanwhile, on July 2, UN officials made it known that Taylor had refused a Nigerian offer of safe haven, were he to step down.
As of July 6, 2003, President Taylor reportedly had accepted an offer of asylum from the Nigerian government, insisting however he alone would decide on the time line for his departure from power. Controlling only a part of his own capital, Mr. Taylor was repeatedly told to resign and leave the country by the United States. He is also wanted for war crimes by a UN backed tribunal in Sierra Leone.
Liberia – Post-Taylor Cease Fire – 11 August 2003
On 11 August 2003 Liberian President Charles Taylor arrived in Nigeria, where he was granted asylum after he relinquished the Liberian presidency. Former President Taylor was met at the airport in the Nigerian capital of Abuja by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Charles Taylor handed over power to his Vice-President Moses Blah in a historic ceremony, attended by the presidents of South Africa, Mozambique, and Ghana. Blah is expected to serve out Charles Taylor’s term, which ended in October 2003. Ghana’s president, John Kufuor said Mr. Blah will be then replaced by a new interim leader and government, currently being formed in talks taking place in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. Efforts were made by African leaders – notably Presidents Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, John Kufuor of Ghana, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria – to resolve the crisis. President Obasanjo intervened with the timely deployment of Nigerian peacekeeping troops, and the former Nigerian Head of State, General Abdelsalami Abubakar, facilitated the Accra talks.
Liberia’s main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, which had been fighting to topple the Taylor regime, declared the war is over.
The leaders from the 16 Liberian opposition political parties in the nation, as well as leaders from religious and women’s organizations, have been meeting in Ghana to draw up a peace plan and establish a transitional government expected to run the country for 18 to 24 months before new elections can be held.
Over 40,000 former fighters are potentially waiting to be demobilized and reintegrated into civilian life after 14 years of fighting. At the cantonment camps, the combatants receive health care, counseling, vocational training, schooling and apprenticeships. Two additional cantonment sites are set to open – one in Buchanan for combatants of the rebel MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia), the other in Gbarnga for the rebel LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy). All disarmed and demobilized combatants receive an initial payment of their transitional safety net allowances of $75, and the intake of soldiers would be restricted to a maximum of 400 per day. Previously they had been entitled to the $150 stipend only after a three-week demobilization training program, followed by another $150 three months later.
On 07 December 2003 more than 2,000 former soldiers in war-torn Liberia started to turn in their weapons with start of a disarmament campaign, but a spate of banditry, looting of humanitarian supplies and random shooting by ex-combatants seeking immediate payment of a stipend marred the process. The influx of combatants at Camp Schiefflin, the disarmament site 56 kilometers east of Monrovia the capital, well exceeded capacity and large numbers were continuing to arrive. Camp Schiefflin was intended for a capacity of one-thousand combatants at a time. But in a very short period over a week over nine-thousand combatants came in to disarm.
On 15 December 2003 UN peacekeepers in Liberia suspended the disarmament program for one month to better organize the process.
As of December 2003, UNMIL’s troop strength stood at 5,900 military personnel out of an overall authorized strength of 15,000. More contingents were expected from Bangladesh, Namibia, Pakistan, Sweden and Ukraine in the near future. The armed groups had yet to demonstrate their full commitment to the peace process, as is apparent from the ongoing skirmishes, the continuing serious violations of human rights and the selfish pursuit of lucrative posts in the Government and public corporations.
By February 2004 about 15,000 blue helmets were deployed in Liberia.
By 20 April 2004 the UN disarmament program in Liberia had expanded to the port city of Buchanan, five days after the process began in the central city of Gbarnga. Officials said the program was now going well, after problems forced it to be suspended in December 2003. The UN reached its goal of disarming 250 former combatants each day in Gbarnga, which is a stronghold for the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD. The disarming of former rebels from the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL, was also going well. combatants have been told that they will remain in the camps for one week before they receive 150 dollars and transport back to their communities, where the reintegration process will begin. When the reintegration is completed, the former rebels are to receive an additional 150 dollars to start their new lives.
By early 2004 the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was winding down the first phase of its program to demobilize and disarm the war-torn West African country’s three main warring factions. As of 28 April more than 18,415 combatants from the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and the Liberians United for Democracy and Freedom (LURD), as well as former Government militia, have surrendered some 10,653 weapons since the program began in mid-April. The second phase of the disarmament exercise would begin after the construction of six additional cantonment sites in other locations around the country. Following launches in Gbarnga, Buchanan and Tubmanburg, the exercise was expected to wrap up at a cantonment site located at the sprawling VOA camp, 25 kilometers north of the Liberian capital, Monrovia. The process originally began in 7 December but was suspended one week later to allow time for better organization. The head of Liberia’s disarmament commission, Moses Jarbo, estimated that there were some 60,000 combatants expected to be disarmed in Liberia, 33 per cent more than the initial projected figures being used by UNMIL.
From Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Archive