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 programme. 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 favour 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 rumours 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 rumoured, 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 goverment emerged. Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) began attacks on goverment 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 Tayor 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 goverment 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
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 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 possibile 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 axcepted 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.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list