Opposition wants strong ECOWAS intervention in Liberia

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- A loose network of Liberian opposition and civil society groups has called for direct intervention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to end the country's fresh civil war.
A delegation led by exiled opposition leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf met late Tuesday in Dakar with current ECOWAS chairman, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, urging him to intervene and help resolve the conflict in Liberia.
"Our objective in Dakar was to brief President Wade in his capacity as ECOWAS chair, on the peace conference Liberian political leaders held 8-11 July in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso)," Johnson-Sirleaf told PANA Wednesday.
"Primarily, though, we were here to plod him into taking a leading role in the Contact Group proposed by the Ouagadougou Declaration," she said, referring to recommendations made by the July meeting.
Others in the delegation that met Wade were a member of Liberia's Inter-Religious Council, Sheik Kafumba Konneh and Dusty Wolokollie, member of a Co-ordinating Committee, set up to monitor implementation of the Ouagadougou Declaration.
Johnson-Sirleaf, who was runner-up in Liberia's 1997 presidential election, which former warlord Charles Taylor won, is upbeat about Wade's co-operation, saying the Senegalese leader sounded positive and committed in his response.
"He promised to work for peace and reconciliation in Liberia, particularly to use the instrumentality of his office (as ECOWAS chairman) to pursue the objectives of the Ouagadougou Declaration," she added.
The Liberians United for Reconstruction and democracy (LURD) dissidents have been trying to topple Taylor's government since 1999, accusing him of political intolerance and repression.
Lamenting the suffering of ordinary Liberians, Johnson- Sirleaf, who was once accused of treason along with other opposition leaders by Taylor, insists on the need for an interventionist force to move in and disarm the country's warring parties.
"Disarmament would open up the political landscape for free expression and a more productive life for Liberians now squatting in refugee camps and depending on foreign aid," she argued.
She explained that the moderate opposition was aware of the frustrations that drove movements like LURD into armed struggle, rather than political confrontation, but noted that the conference in Ouagadougou had advised the rebel group against continuing on the path of violence.
Johnson-Sirleaf admitted, however, that whereas the Monrovia government shunned the forum in Ouagadougou, LURD took part and might have gone ahead to declare a unilateral cease-fire had the government shown some goodwill by attending the talks.
Insisting on international intervention, the Liberian opposition coalition, has dismissed a national reconciliation conference called for 24 August by Taylor's government.
"As far as some of us see it, the said national reconciliation conference is just a distraction from the failures of the government in Monrovia and the sufferings it is causing the Liberian people," Johnson-Sirleaf charged.
Taylor, who rescheduled the conference from the initial date of 26 July, has been urging exiled opponents and former warlords to attend, assuring them of their safety.
"But the problem is that Liberia is under a state of emergency, hence any one could be arrested without course," Johnson-Sirleaf said, noting: "this raises concern even among those who would want to give the government the benefit of the doubt.
" She said the political situation in Liberia was quite tense, adding that "uncertainties are very deep because of fear generated by the present conflict, but more especially because of grave human rights abuses.
" While ruling out a collective boycott of the reconciliation conference by the opposition, Johnson-Sirleaf, however, said she was still to make up her mind on the meeting.
"As of now, I am not convinced about the sincerity of the government, but I am still open and would decide at the right time," she said, recalling that a similar conference in 1998 spawned resolutions but no meaningful results.
Johnson-Sirleaf, who served as Finance Minister under the True Whig government of late President William Tolbert in the 1970s, is now leader of the opposition Unity Party.
She resigned her job at the UN as the UNDP African Regional Bureau Director to join politics just before Liberia's 1997 polls.
Although she backed Taylor against the government of the late President Samuel Doe, Johnson-Sirleaf is now a staunch opponent of the present regime in Monrovia.

15 august 2002 16:12:00




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