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LIBERIA: LURD commanders want leader replaced by his wife

MONROVIA, 8 January 2004 (IRIN) - Forty commanders of Liberia's main rebel group, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) have signed a statement calling for the replacement of LURD chairman Sekou Damate Conneh by his influential wife, Aisha Keita Conneh.

Diplomats say she has a great deal of influence with Guinean President Lansana Conte, who for the past four years has been LURD's main backer. She is reputed to be Conte's personal fortune teller.

The dissident commanders said in a three-page document, made available to IRIN, that Sekou Conneh, a former tax official and second hand car dealer, had failed "to seek the interest of the men and women in arms that brought you to power".

They also accused Conneh of filling LURD's allocated slots in Liberia's broad-based tranistional government with nominees who had bribed him with cash in order to secure ministerial posts.

"The gentleman is very ungrateful. We fought for him and made sure that his name became prominent in this world; he did not find jobs for we the top generals but appointed people like Finance Minister Losone Kamara, who is his former wife’s brother and knows nothing about LURD", Hassan Tarawaly, one battle group commander who participated in LURD's attack on Monrovia last year, told IRIN.

The dissident commanders called for Cheaye Doe to be retained as LURD deputy chairman. Cheaye is the younger brother of former Liberian president Samuel Doe, who was killed in September 1990 during the early stages of Liberia's 14-year civil war.

The dissident LURD commanders said that they remained commited to participating in a UN-supervised disarmament and demobilisation campaign, which is due to resume later this month after a false start in December.

Conneh, who has lived in the Guinean capital Conakry since the early 1990's, has kept a low profile since the transitional governement was installed in October following a peace agreement signed in August 2003.

After spending a few weeks in Tubmanburg, LURD's military headquarters, 60 km northwest of the capital Monrovia, he returned to Conakry. But reporters who went to his house there on Thursday found no-one there. LURD officials in Monrovia said he was currently in Dakar, Senegal.

Senior LURD officials told IRIN privately that Conneh had been estranged from his wife since October. The two fell out over the appointment of Kamara as finance minister, they added.

With the exception of Soriebah Kamara, who is an assistant minister at the Liberian foreign ministry, all the signatories of the statement calling for Sekou Conneh's removal as chairman are military commanders.

They include Generals Philip Kamara, Mohammed Konneh, Samson Gwain and Black Diamond, all of whom played a prominent role in LURD's repeated assaults on Monrovia from June to August 2003.

However, LURD Secretary General Joe Gbalah told IRIN that Sekou Conneh was still the rebel group's legitimate leader.

Gbalah, who was furious at the action of the dissident commanders, accused them of mutiny. He said their action "devilish for the Liberian people."

"The war for which LURD was formed has ended and in three months time LURD will be disbanded," Gbalah said.
"LURD does not have a military high command and the commanders are subjected to the political leadership under our laws, anything outside of that framework is considered as mutiny."

Diplomatic sources in Monrovia said the confusion within LURD's ranks was not expected to damage the peace process.

"Conneh has been out of Liberia since October and LURD authorities on the ground have given their commitment to the peace process. They allowed for the deployment of UNMIL (the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia) and repeatedly said they will disarm. The peace process has reached a point of no turning back," one diplomat told IRIN.


Themes: (IRIN) Conflict




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