23 July 2003

Liberia: Taylor Aide Accuses U.S. of Backing Liberia Rebels

Washington, DC — The Press Secretary to Liberia's President Charles Taylor told allAfrica.com, Wednesday, that Taylor wants a firm commitment to "a constitutional transition" before stepping aside. Taylor was still willing to step down "if that will lead to peace," said Sylvester Vaani Passawe; "the question is what happens to the democratic mandate of the Liberian people."

Passawe, who said he was talking to allAfrica "with President Taylor's voice," called the conflict in Liberia, "a proxy war." Claiming to have "direct evidence," he accused the United States of backing the Liberian rebels. Pressed on the point, Passawe said aid money given to neighboring Guinea by the United States was being used by Lurd rebels to lease armaments with U.S. knowledge. AllAfrica has not been able to confirm this independently.

What is going on in Liberia "is not a matter of bad governance," said Passawe, "but a policy of 'regime change' in the form of a proxy war."

He insisted that Liberia's current government was legitimately elected and that if Taylor stepped down, the only way to assure peace would be for Liberia's vice president, Moses Blah, to take over as provided for by the constitution.

Last month Taylor said his government had foiled a coup attempt sponsored by foreign powers and linked Blah to the conspiracy. The vice-president, a long time associate of Taylor dating back to his rebellion, was picked up by security agents and locked up.

At the time Taylor said: "Contacts were made by certain embassies near the capital to senior armed forces of Liberia personnel. Some succumbed, but the coup effort ended in failure. The attempt was foiled because the generals of the army refused. As a result, we have received and we have accepted the resignation of the vice president. And I'm sure he'll have an apology for the Liberian people."

But Blah was later released and reinstated as vice president by Taylor, who said he forgave his deputy, explaining that Blah had been misinformed and misled by unnamed foreign agents provocateurs, determined to see him overthrown.

As to whether handing over power to Blah was compatible with the formation of a transitional government including the Lurd and Model rebel groups, Passawe said the proposal of the Economic Community of West African States [being discussed at Ecowas-sponsored peace negotiations in Accra, Ghana] "speaks of a constitutional transition." Any "extra-constitutional arrangement," he warned, "will only invoke a lot of arguments over power."

Willing to talk

Taylor’s presidential spokesman did say, however, that the government in Monrovia was willing to negotiate with Lurd. "Liberians are tired of war," he added, and his government must respond to the desire for peace. At a press conference in Monrovia, Tuesday, Passawe said the Taylor government had always been committed to dialogue as a means of ending Liberia's civil war. "It is a foregone conclusion that negotiation is better than armed conflict."

According to Passawe, the two key factors essential to permanently ending the conflict engulfing Monrovia's city center, were a multinational peacekeeping force that would be largely composed of troops from the region, and for the U.S. to use its "substantial influence" to rein in rebel forces.

Passawe said he understood U.S. "reluctance" to commit troops, but added that arguments from some in the Bush administration that Liberia was not significant enough to justify intervention did not ring true. After six years of what he called "obstruction" via embargoes and expressions of concern for regional stability, "is the U.S. at the last minute to tell us that [it] has no strategic interests here?"

Despite the commitment of Ecowas to send troops, the presence of U.S. military forces as part of a multinational force would put a special pressure on the rebels, pressure "that makes clear that military victory is not possible," Passawe argued. Taylor "would give power up to assure continuity and security," but so far his "overtures have been betrayed in many ways."

Asked about the war crimes’ indictment from the UN-backed Sierra Leone Special Court hanging over Taylor's head, Passawe implied that a deal would have to be reached." It's tied to the entire peace process," he said.

The unwillingness of Ghana, the current chair of Ecowas, to hand Taylor over during peace talks in Accra last month reflects Ecowas’ rejection of the indictment, said Passawe, who called the indictment "political" and "part of the conspiracy of regime change... Ecowas' refusal in Accra was a vote against it."

Passawe did not see much prospect for a quick end to Liberia's civil war. "I don't think we've seen the last of this vicious cycle," he said.

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