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Civilian Death Toll Rising in Liberia as Fighting Continues for 4th Day


Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea is blaming the international community for the growing civilian death toll. Fighting continues for a fourth day in the capital, Monrovia, between government forces and advancing rebels, known as Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy. The Liberian government is battling against opposition rebels who are shelling the capital. The rebel leaders say their aim is not to take the capital but to force President Charles Taylor out of the city and out of Liberia.

As the mortars continue to fall on the Liberian capital, Monrovia, Defense Minister Daniel Chea put the blame for the civilian casualties squarely on the shoulders of the international community.

He says an international arms embargo on Liberia has prevented the government from procuring enough arms to defend itself and the people of Liberia from the rebel forces.

"The arms embargo has an effect in that we are unable to equip our armed forces adequately, thus giving LURD [the rebel forces] this kind of advantage to be able to come and kill innocent civilians," said Mr. Chea.

When asked if he would you say the international community is indirectly helping the LURD rebels, "they are helping them by holding arms embargo, yes! I would say the international community is collaborating with the rebels," replied Defense Minister.

The U.N. placed an arms embargo on the government of Liberia in 1992 and tightened it even further in 2002. However, humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch, which is among the critics of the arms embargo, says it is ineffective. The group maintains that the Liberian government has successfully acquired weaponry and munitions despite the embargo.

Mr. Chea wants the arms embargo lifted.

"We would like the international community, lead by both the United States of America, the biggest democracy that there is, and the United Nations Security Council to lift the arms embargo," he said. "We would also like to hear condemnation of LURD for this wanton act of death and destruction. If anybody should be talking about indictment, if there is any call of war crimes against humanity they should seriously be contemplated to be in the direction of charging LURD forces and their collaborators with war crimes and they should be a public candidate for indictment."

So far, it is the Liberian President Charles Taylor who has been indicted for war crimes, not the rebel leaders. Mr. Taylor was indicted in neighboring Sierra Leone, and there have been calls from the United States and other members of the international community for Mr. Taylor to step down.

Christopher Melville, a West Africa Political Analyst for World Markets Research Center in London says Mr. Taylor's departure, voluntary or not, won't likely end the current crisis.

"For a long time people have been saying that Charles Taylor is the biggest cause of instability in the West Africa sub-region and that's no doubt true in terms of wars in Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, rebel insurgencies in Guinea and so on," explained Mr. Melville. "But in truth the situation has deteriorated so much that, if you remove him that's not going to be an end to that instability."

West African peacekeeping forces have been promised to Liberia by regional leaders meeting in Dakar, Senegal, Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

In Monrovia there have been displays of anger towards the U.S. government at what Liberians see as Washington's failure to intervene. Relatives Monday stacked bodies of their relatives outside the U.S. embassy gates to show their frustration.

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