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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

LIBERIA: Bryant to intervene in rebel rift

MONROVIA, 21 January 2004 (IRIN) - The head of the transitional government, Gyude Bryant, is to intervene in a feud between Sekou Conneh, the leader of Liberia's main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and his estranged wife Aisha Conneh.

The row threatens to cause a split between LURD’s political leadership in Monrovia, which backs Sekou Conneh and the movement’s senior commanders who have rallied behind Aisha.

Gyude Bryant told reporters in Monrovia on Wednesday that he plans to "engage the leadership of LURD to resolve the crisis", adding "the government will encourage an amicable resolution of this problem."

The crisis stems from an event two weeks ago, when 40 of LURD's military commanders urged Aisha to take over control of the group from her increasingly invisible husband.

The commanders, who included Chief of Staff Aliyu "Cobra" Sheriff, accuse Sekou Conneh of not looking after their interests and accepting money in exchange for positions allocated to LURD in the transitional government.

The power behind the sword?

Sekou Conneh has been the official leader of LURD since it burst on the scene in Liberia in 1999. However, Aisha has long been seen as the essential link in LURD's relationship with President Lansana Conte of Guinea, often described as the movement’s main backer.

Though Aisha is reluctant to talk about her relationship with Conte, she described herself to IRIN as a "founder and main leader" of LURD in an interview earlier this month.

As for her relationship with her estranged husband, Aisha told IRIN: "We have problems, but it is purely a family matter."
However Chairman Bryant believes the row could have wider consequences.

Bryant told reporters that he decided to intervene because he was concerned that the affair could spill over into displays of vandalism and hooliganism among rival groups in the capital, Monrovia. "We will respond to whatever action and UNMIL is fully prepared to respond to whatever force," Bryant warned.

The head of the transitional government may not be the only senior figure worried by Mr and Mrs Conneh's arguing. An aide to Aisha Conneh, who declined to be named, hinted to IRIN that West African diplomats have been mediating to resolve the situation.

Meanwhile, residents of Monrovia fear that the affair could jeopardise LURD's participation in a disarmament programme being organised by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The programme, which has already been delayed after former combatants rioted on the streets of the capital demanding cash for their guns, is essential to restoring security to Liberia after 14 years of fighting.

However, UNMIL acting force commander Major General Joseph Owonibi assured IRIN that the rift between Aisha and Sekou would not derail disarmament plans further.

"The rift is going to be resolved. We are going ahead with our own deployment and disarmament plans," Owonibi said. UNMIL's programme to disarm around 40,000 armed combatants is due to be completed in late February.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance

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