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Opposition Remains Skeptical After Liberia Lifts State of Emergency - 2002-09-16

Opposition leaders in Liberia say they are skeptical of President Charles Taylor's decision Saturday to lift a state of emergency.

Members of Liberia's opposition say they believe the move by President Taylor to lift the eight-month state of emergency is meant to show a softer side to the international community as his government faces mounting outside pressure to improve its human rights record.

Liberia is under U.N. sanctions for its role in Sierra Leone's civil war. It has come under heavy criticism from the United States and other members of the international community this year for alleged human rights abuses. The alleged abuses have been committed as Taylor forces battle rebels with the group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) in the northwest of the country.

Human rights advocacy groups and opposition politicians in Liberia accused Mr. Taylor's forces of using the state of emergency as a license to commit abuses. The measure was imposed in February, following LURD attacks near Monrovia.

President Taylor lifted the state of emergency on Saturday, saying government troops have made significant gains over the rebels. The government, he said, no longer considers the insurgents as imminent a threat as it did before.

Human rights advocates say a number of people remain in jail after the government suspected them of supporting the rebels. Those jailed include Hassan Bility, a Monrovia journalist who was arrested after he wrote articles critical of the Taylor government.

Liberian Information Minister Reginald Goodridge, however, said plans are still on for Mr. Bility, who has not been seen in public for months, to be tried in a closed military court.

"Why should the government tolerate any activity that would be aimed at bringing instability to the city or anything that might be aimed at trying to destabilize the government?" he asked. "We have said that if LURD wants to participate in the political process they are free to form their own political party. Indeed, there are 19 political parties right now freely operating. I don't think that any government anywhere in the world, whether in Africa or in the Western democracies, would tolerate any group that will come into the city to try, to plot, to overthrow a particular government."

Opposition leaders who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity say they do not believe the crackdown on Taylor opponents will cease now that the state of emergency has been lifted.

For their part, LURD rebels appeared indifferent over news of Mr. Taylor's action on Saturday. Speaking from rebel headquarters in the northwestern town of Voinjama, LURD chief Sekou Damate Conneh called the lifting of the state of emergency a mockery. The rebel leader said he believed Mr. Taylor would continue to intimidate and kill his opponents whether or not a state of emergency is in place.

The group on Sunday renewed its call for the resignation of President Taylor.

For the past three weeks, President Taylor has been hosting a reconciliation conference in Monrovia, which he has invited the rebels to attend. Thus far, however, the insurgents have offered no indication that they will.