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Low Attendence Expected at Liberian Reconciliation Conference - 2002-07-23


Liberian President Charles Taylor has called a reconciliation conference outside the capital, Monrovia, this week in an effort to bring peace to his embattled nation. But prospects for a solid outcome appear bleak.

Most members of the opposition and rebels with the group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, LURD, plan to stay away.

The meeting, which starts Friday, is being called by Charles Taylor to bring exiled politicians and dissidents together with government officials to discuss Liberia's future.

For three years, the West African country has been in the grip of a civil war launched by Guinean-backed rebels who now control a large part of the territory. Mr. Taylor declared a state of emergency in February, giving his security forces increased powers to detain people suspected of supporting the rebels. The measure has resulted in the arrest of a number of suspected dissidents and journalists.

Opposition politicians in Liberia and in exile, as well as rebels, have said they will not attend the reconciliation conference. Some said the existing state of emergency and the security forces' continued crackdown on dissidents make them concerned for their safety. Others said the purpose of the meeting is vague and they do not believe it will have a meaningful outcome.

One of Mr. Taylor's chief political opponents, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who lives in neighboring Ivory Coast, recently told VOA she does not see the point in trying to negotiate with Charles Taylor. "Many have tried: Those who felt some solidarity with him since his election; those who had sympathy for him; friends outside, both countries and individuals. It's very clear that Mr. Taylor neither has vision nor the requisite commitment to development. His primary objective is the accumulation of wealth for the purpose of holding on to power," she said.

Expecting low participation, the Taylor government decided to make the conference an open-ended affair, with no definite end date. VOA asked Liberia's information minister, Reginald Goodridge, what he thought the meeting could achieve without the country's main opposition leaders.

"It does concern us, but it does not diminish the chance of success. Many of these politicians who have been running away from their own shadows, these politicians have had a number of meetings in various parts of the world. If they don't want to come this year, they may come next year. If they don't want to come next year, they may come five years from now. This is a continuous national discussion [that will be held] until we find a way out of our problems," he said.

The conference will be held as President Taylor continues to deal with rising public pressure for his government to repair a battered economy and infrastructure. Liberia is described by the United Nations as having among the worst living conditions in the world.

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