New war at home for rebel-backing Taylor
By Lutz Kleveman in Monrovia
A LEADER of Sierra Leone's rebel movement has admitted that President
Charles Taylor of Liberia supported and even directly controlled
Omri Golley, head of the Revolutionary United Front delegation
in peace talks with the Sierra Leone government, told The Telegraph:
"Taylor was in complete control of the RUF until about two
weeks ago. He decided everything the RUF did."
The RUF leader was speaking shortly after the United Nations
Security Council imposed British-sponsored sanctions on Liberia
in an effort to quell the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
The 12-month embargo on diamond exports and a travel ban on senior
government officials came after UN reports accused Mr Taylor of
diamond smuggling and gun running to help the RUF, which is linked
to widespread atrocities over the past decade.
In early March Mr Taylor, who was one of Liberia's most brutal
faction leaders in its civil war before his election in 1997,
was given two months to show he had cut all ties with the RUF.
The UN now says he has not proved his innocence.
The Liberian government denies that it ever helped the RUF, calling
the sanctions "unjust and unfair". It claims that it
froze the bank accounts of senior rebels, banned the import of
uncertified diamonds and expelled a an RUF leader known as Commander
Reginald Goodrich, the Information Minister, said: "The
UN never set up an independent and transparent mechanism to verify
that we had complied with their demands. The sanctions seem to
have been entirely premeditated. All the allegations are absurd."
Mr Golley conceded that Mr Taylor recently cut his ties and support
for the rebels in an effort to comply with UN demands. But the
RUF leader said the Liberian warlord-turned-president had exploited
the RUF's control of Sierra Leone's diamond mines since December
1998 for his own profit. He said: "We now feel abused by
him, especially economically."
Reports from the region yesterday suggested that the RUF and
government forces had agreed to start disarming their fighters
this week to secure a ceasefire. Ironically these positive signs
come as Liberia appears to be moving in the other direction, with
Mr Taylor's regime slipping into a paranoid siege mentality.
The prevailing insecurity was starkly highlighted on a street
just below the presidential mansion. A jeep driven by members
of the infamous Anti-Terrorist Unit crashed into a civilian vehicle,
sending its driver through the windscreen.
Within two minutes some 50 other sinister-looking ATU soldiers,
menacing scorpion badges displayed on their olive-green combat
uniforms, rushed down the hill from the mansion. Shouting and
brandishing machine-guns to keep the crowd around the scene in
check, the ATU men fetched their colleagues and sped back inside
the mansion compound. A Liberian passer-by said: "They take
Mr Taylor's troubles are compounded by the outbreak of new fighting
which threatens to engulf the impoverished country. The insurgents
have gained control of much of Lofa county in the north. Even
state-controlled media last week admitted that government forces
were in retreat.
Foreign diplomats were officially advised not to travel outside
Monrovia, or within the capital at night. On the road leading
to the new war zone, the military, police and ATU fighters set
up checkpoints to keep rebels from infiltrating the capital.
Lorries full of heavily armed soldiers raced eastwards, past
charred and bullet-riddled ruins and giant propaganda billboards
extolling Mr Taylor's leadership. In Gbanga, Mr Taylor's headquarters
during the civil war of the 1990s and now the country's second
capital, people were preparing to flee.
Refugees from Lofa county were streaming out of the bush, carrying
no luggage except for the clothes on their gaunt bodies. In a
refugee camp just west of Gbanga, hastily set up by the UN-run
World Food Programme, about 15,000 people, most of them women
and children, clustered around the buildings of a former ATU training
The Taylor regime has accused neighbouring Guinea, Sierra Leone
and indirectly Britain of backing the uprising. Captured rebels
who were paraded on television "confessed" that they
had been armed and trained by the British troops stationed in
When asked for an independent interview, the state authorities
were unable to produce any of the alleged rebel prisoners alive.