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Africa

2003-06-27

AFRICA/LIBERIA - A CRISIS LASTING MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS: BACKGROUND

Monrovia (Fides Service) – Liberia has been in crisis since the 1980s of the last century, since a coup in 1980 led by Sergeant Samuel K. Doe put an end to centres of dominion of the so-called “Afro-Americans”. These were descendent of former slaves transported to America and liberated in the 19th century, who returned to found a new country, Liberia where they could as last live as free men. But the new arrivals imposed a regime of dominion over the local people, creating a system of social and economic inequality: Liberia’s wealth was entirely in the hands of 3% of the population (families of American origin).
The coup led by Doe was a crucial turning point for the country because for the first time local ethnic groups took political power. But it failed to bring stability to the country. From 1980 in fact there were a series of coups and political crises which left their mark on the country. In 1989 Charles Taylor, a member of the group of descendents of American slaves started a guerrilla movement. In 1990 a former ally of Taylor, Prince Johnson assassinated president Doe. There followed a fairly turbulent period during which different Liberian factions fought ferociously. Thanks to mediation by neighbouring countries, mainly Sierra Lone, where Taylor supported RUF rebels (United Revolutionary Front). Through Liberia RUF exported diamonds extracted from mines under its control to fund its war activities.
During the years the Liberian crisis became intertwined with those in neighbouring countries: Sierra Leone, Guinea and more recently Ivory Coast. Networks of trafficking of arms, diamonds, and other resources in West Africa have their home bases in Monrovia.
In 1999 LURD was formed, made up mainly of Mandingo, which is supported by neighbour countries, out of retaliation for Taylor’s support to local rebels. A few months ago another group appeared MODEL Movement for Democracy in Liberia which operates along the border with Ivory Coast.
Liberia is the centre of initiatives to put an end the many conflicts which bloody West Africa. In September 2002, United States, Britain and France formed a Contact Group for Liberia. The United Nations, the European Union and the West Africa Economic Community are also committed to solving the crisis. On 17 June the Liberian government and rebels, meeting in Ghana, reached an agreement for a cease fire which was to have led to a lasting peace agreement within 30 days. President Taylor promised to resign once the peace agreement was signed. But only days later the agreement was broken and fighting resumed on a large scale. LM (Fides Service 27/6/2003 EM lines 38 Words: 478)

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