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Liberian Group Threatens to Suspend Disarmament Process - 2004-05-14


A political faction in Liberia's main rebel group says that it will suspend the disarmament process, unless the finance minister in the power-sharing government is replaced. The group?s leader appointed the minister, but this large faction now wants him out.

Senior members of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) have called on transitional leader Gyude Bryant to immediately replace Finance Minister Lusinee Kamara. They accuse Mr. Kamara of large-scale corruption.

The leader of the LURD rebel group, Sekou Conneh, appointed the finance minister under Liberia's peace agreement. Mr. Kamara, who is in charge of disbursing more than $500 million promised by international donors for Liberia's reconstruction, was not available for comment.

Senior Finance Ministry official Soko Sackor, who would replace Mr. Kamara, said that those supporting the change would suspend disarmament, if their request is blocked.

?The organization has decided to slow down its own cooperation with the process,? he said. ?It stems from the simple fact that the question of the finance minister has been lingering around for a while. You have people in the organization, of course, who think maybe he should remain on, maybe because of their own personal interests. We are looking at the national interests and the whole interests of the sub-region. That's why the decision was made that Lusinee step aside, so that we can have the kind of control that is required, in terms of making sure that this process is not derailed, until the disarmament is completed and elections are held in this country.?

The deputy defense minister in the power sharing unity government, another senior member of LURD, Joe Wylie, accuses the finance minister of colluding with interim government chairman Bryant and businessmen in Liberia to siphon off aid money.

?Kamara is in cahoots with Gyude Bryant and the Lebanese businessmen and they are stealing money,? he said. ?This money is intended to facilitate the peace process. Mr. Kamara and Mr. Gyude Bryant are sabotaging the rest of us, as a matter of fact. Bryant has created a parallel government in the executive house.?

Chairman Bryant has denied these accusations. He also says he has no proof that Finance Minister Kamara has done anything wrong, but that he will consider LURD's request to remove him. Mr. Bryant also said that he is consulting with international observers in Liberia on how best to proceed.

The situation has been complicated by the unclear position of LURD's leader, former used car salesman Sekou Conneh. Some of the organization's senior political leaders say he has signed a document requesting Mr. Kamara's dismissal, but his close aides deny this. Mr. Conneh has been in Europe recently, where he was not available for comment.

Several LURD military leaders close to Mr. Conneh have said they support Mr. Kamara and that his dismissal would lead to violence.

The controversy also highlights a leadership battle within LURD, where political and military leaders have been at odds. The dispute pits Mr. Conneh against his estranged wife, Aicha, who is close to LURD's political faction. It comes as the United Nations says it has already disarmed more than half of the estimated 40,000 fighters who were involved in Liberia's civil war.

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