The world press on Liberia

Two months ago Moses Blah was under arrest for attempting to mount a coup against Liberian President Charles Taylor. Now he is to succeed him.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

Published August 12, 2003 6:57PM (EDT)

United Kingdom, Simon Jeffery in the Guardian

It has been an eventful summer for Moses Blah, who entered it as Liberia's vice-president. At the beginning of June he was under arrest accused of attempting to mount a coup against President Charles Taylor. Just over two months later he is to succeed him...

One of the old guard, he will inevitably be associated with a regime that exported war and is blamed for much of the chaos in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. He also shares much of his past with the man he succeeds -- the two trained in Libyan guerrilla camps in the 1980s before Mr Taylor launched his 1989 rebellion against then president Samuel Doe.

After a six-year civil war, which saw Mr Blah gain the reputation of a feared general, Mr Taylor was elected president in 1997. One campaign slogan ran "He killed my Ma, he killed my Pa, but I will vote for him." The death of Mr Taylor's first vice-president, Enoch Dogolea, in 2000 saw Mr Blah return from being ambassador to Libya to take the job.

As vice-president, he ditched his general's uniform in favour of African robes and drove himself around in a jeep rather than traveling in motorcades. He has spoken of his wish for exiles to return to rebuild the shattered country and suggested a new start can be made. "Let bygones be bygones. If there is power, we can share it," he recently told the Associated Press.

Mr Blah's arrest this summer apart, the present and previous presidents are considered firm allies...

Some tensions may remain but the closeness between the two men presents a problem for the leaders of Liberia's two main rebel groups since Mr Blah is not the neutral candidate they want to see heading a transitional administration; some have accused him outright of being a proxy. Sekou Fofana, a senior member of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, the group who have made repeated assaults on the capital, was reported to have said that "[they] are the same. If Blah takes over, we will fight back".

It is perhaps with such statements in mind that the president of Ghana, John Kufuor, also chairman of the west African community Ecowas, attempted to limit political -- and military -- fallout from the appointment with his announcement today that Mr Blah will serve in office until an interim government is established in October.

South Africa, Article in News24

Groups of heavily-armed teenage gunmen belonging to both the forces loyal to Charles Taylor and the country's main rebel group danced together on Monday after the Liberian president stepped down.

The group of gunmen, who carried booming heavy stereo equipment, were seen dancing together at the Gabriel Tucker Bridge, also called the New Bridge, scene of the heaviest fighting in the capital.

In government-held central Monrovia, people said they were glad that Taylor had gone because they believed it would usher in peace.

Vowfee Jabateh, 35, an unemployed former journalist, who has been trapped in central Monrovia for three weeks said: "It's very, very good that he is gone."

"It will bring peace to Liberia -- the problem was his leadership and the LURD only rebelled because he broke his promises," he said referring to the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel movement...

Declaring "history will be kind to me", Taylor handed over power Monday after 14 years at the center of two bloody wars that have brought Liberia to its knees.

Vice President Moses Blah was sworn in as Taylor's successor at a ceremony held in the presidential palace and attended by African leaders keen to ensure a smooth transition in Monrovia, a hub of instability in the region for decades.

The long-awaited handover is seen as vital to ending nearly 14 years of almost uninterrupted war in Liberia beginning with a seven-year rebellion sparked by Taylor in 1989 that left 200,000 dead.

Saudi Arabia, Hassan Tahsin in the Arab News

The occupation of Liberia under the pretext of saving it from civil war is the natural result of the American administration's desire for a weighty presence inside Africa that will enable it to take over a great number of African markets as well as Africa's natural wealth.

South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Nigeria and the Senegal were vital in the American president's tour of Africa last month. They all raised important issues:

  • Covert competition for domination of the African market between France and the U.S. The most important visit was the one to Senegal. Considered close to France, it also comprises a small island that was the meeting point for all kidnapped slaves and consequently among the roots of America's black society.
  • Ties to the upcoming presidential elections. The Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party, is usually uninterested in Africa. Bush toured the continent in the hope of attracting a share of the black vote in the upcoming elections.
  • Imposing America's point of view through trade, diplomacy, economic promises and by force, if necessary...
  • Not wanting to repeat the confrontations that occurred because it invaded Iraq without a U.N. mandate, this time the administration put the Liberian problem to the U.N., agreed that African peacekeeping forces would be involved, and agreed to discriminate between government forces and rebels in Liberia. This indicates that the American administration will deal with African issues in a new way and with a new understanding, unlike the way it has dealt with oil-rich countries.

    Nigeria, Bola A. Akinterinwa in This Day

    As regards war crimes, any act of violation of the 12 August 1949 Geneva Conventions is regarded as a war crime: willful killing; torture; inhuman treatment; extensive destruction and appropriation of property; compelling a Prisoner of War or a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power; unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement; taking of hostages; attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings, killing or wounding a combatant, who, having laid down his arms or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at his discretion; killing or wounding treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army; making improper use of a flag of truce; pillaging a town or place; employing poison or poisoned weapons; employing bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body; employing asphyxiating poisonous or other gases and all analogous liquids; violence to life and person, especially murder of all kinds, mutilation, as well as cruel treatment, degrading treatment, etc. The crime of aggression essentially occurs in the context of an unprovoked attack and can include several acts enumerated above in its manifestations.

    From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that either in the context of Liberia or Sierra Leone, Charles Taylor is guilty ... He killed two Nigerian journalists who were not combatants and were not in the battle field. In Sierra Leone, he aided and abetted the rebels who launched attacks against the civil population...

    Nigeria has granted Charles Taylor territorial asylum. Nigeria's right to grant the asylum is sovereign and not questionable. The reasons for exercising the right are humanitarian and acceptable, especially in the light of the fact that the asylum is expected to facilitate the restoration of peace and security in Liberia. However, the point is that political asylum does not help the prevention and suppression of international crimes. On the contrary, it protects them... In an attempt to prevent or suppress a crime, states also engage in fresh crimes.

    Egypt, Gamal Nkrumah in Al-Ahram Weekly

    The diplomatic dance of United States President George W Bush with his Liberian counterpart is quickening...

    Charles Taylor stands accused of backing the former armed Sierra Leonean opposition group the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), an organization that Western governments and international human rights organizations claim committed gross human rights violations in a ruthless quest for power.

    But unlike Saddam Hussein, who flatly rejected offers of asylum from neighboring Arab countries, Taylor has reluctantly accepted an offer of asylum from Nigeria. Even so, his acceptance remains conditional. He wants international peace-keepers to move into Liberia before he leaves the country and he insists on immunity from prosecution... Taylor argues that if the former Chilean dictator Pinochet was allowed to go free, he too should not be prosecuted. He was, after all, democratically elected, and does not want to share the fate of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic...

    The main Liberian armed opposition groups -- Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) -- are both ethnic based organizations with a terrible record of gross human rights violations. LURD, which has taken control of the port of Monrovia, is distributing food stocked in port warehouses in an attempt to curry favor with the local population...

    Mohamed Ibn Chambas, secretary-general of the 16-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), told Al-Ahram Weekly that "the intervention of African peace-keeping forces in Liberia was a good example of finding African solutions to African problems." He added that the chances for lasting peace in Liberia are closer than ever before.

    The first batch of Nigerian peace- keeping troops arrived in Liberia on Monday. Two battalions from Nigeria, with an estimated 1,500 men, are to be supported by additional troops from Ghana, Togo, Benin, Mali, Senegal and Gambia. By the end of the month a total of 3,250 West African troops will be stationed in Liberia.

    Compiled by Laura McClure

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