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NGO's Welcome UN Decision To Extend Liberian Sanctions - 2003-12-23

Non-governmental organizations are welcoming a decision by the U-N Security Council to extend sanctions against Liberia. They say the country may be at peace, but the smuggling of weapons, diamonds, and timber continues.

The U-N Security Council voted unanimously Monday to maintain sanctions on Liberia for another year.

U-N special envoy in Liberia, Jacques Klein, said as long as tens of thousands of former fighters remain armed throughout Liberia, there is too much of a risk that trade in illegal weapons, timber, and diamonds will continue.

A Belgium-based African expert with the International Crisis Group, Stephen Ellis, agrees.

"Part of the sanctions was a ban on selling weapons to Liberia and until such time as there is a government that's internationally respectable and is in clear control that's the sort of action that you would not want to lift just straight away. To just lift the sanctions altogether would have, on balance, a more negative effect, and, obviously, the main example of that would be the ban on selling weapons to Liberia."

Some Liberian officials say the new government needs weapons to control former rebels, but Mr. Ellis says such work should be left up to U-N peacekeepers.

Liberian officials are also unhappy with the U-N's decision to maintain a ban on Liberian timber trade, but conservationists agree the sanctions should stay in effect.

Program manager for the conservation group Fauna and Flora International, Anyaa Vohiri, says Liberians would not benefit from the resumption of timber trade.

"The whole (timber) sector needs reform before we start commercial logging again and it also gives an opportunity to really look at balancing the commercial, conservation and communal uses of the forest of Liberia. So they should take this advantage to put the pieces back in place where it's functioning in a way that the government does receive the revenue and the people do benefit from it, then let the sanctions stay in place until that's done."

The United Nations has also called for Monrovia to implement international rules on trading in diamonds before it lifts its ban on Liberian diamonds.

The United Nations imposed sanctions against President Charles Taylor's government in 2001, accusing him of fueling unrest at home and in neighboring Sierra Leone. His departure into exile in Nigeria last August ended Liberia's civil war.