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Liberian Calls on Visiting UN Delegation to End Travel Ban

The 15-member U.N. Security Council delegation which has been touring several African countries has arrived in Liberia, the final leg of its four-nation tour. It will hold talks Wednesday with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on the progress of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Liberia.

The delegation is also likely to hear from former officials and family members of former President Charles Taylor who are under a U.N.-imposed travel ban and assets freeze order.

The Security Council first mandated the restrictions in 2001 against Taylor and his government for his role in the Sierra Leone civil war. Since then, the travel ban list has been updated several times to prevent former Taylor officials and family members from using allegedly misappropriated funds to interfere with the restoration of peace and stability in Liberia.

Benoni Urey, former commissioner of maritime affairs in the Taylor government and one of those who is under the travel ban and assets freeze said the U.N. has wrongly persecuted him and other former Taylor government officials.

“For almost nine years we have been placed on a travel ban and assets freeze. We served a sentence of nine years for a crime we know we had not committed. I served my country diligently for six years. I’m I been persecuted because I served my country with distinction?” he said.

Urey said he and the others affected by the travel ban and assets freeze are not bitter against the United Nations, but that are hoping the U.N. would use reasoning in dealing with the matter.

“We’re happy that the U.N. Security Council is here and that they may interview and listen to the call of the Liberian people because I can say overwhelmingly there’s 98 percent of the Liberian people who did not comprehend why is there a travel ban on some of the most productive people this country has produced,” Urey said.

One of the reasons the Security Council imposed the travel ban and assets freeze was to prevent former Taylor officials and family members from using alleged misappropriated funds to interfere with the restoration of peace and stability in Liberia.

Urey denied he ever embezzled any funds as official in the government of former President Charles Taylor.

“First of all, did anybody ever report any money missing? Never! I speak on behalf of myself. Since I left maritime I’ve been audited six times, and pray tell me if monies were missing, six audits won’t find it? The U.N. is not stationed in Liberia; that’s why we harbor no malice against them. It’s our own brethren that had to lie and misinform these people,” he said.

One of the allegations that some have made against Urey is that as maritime commissioner, he was responsible for the purchase of helicopters which the Taylor government used to allegedly commit war crimes.

Urey denied the helicopters were ever used to commit crimes. Instead he said they were used to transport wounded people and the police.

“I did not purchase a helicopter for Mr. Taylor. I was commissioner of maritime affairs; I got instructions from the president of the Republic of Liberia Charles Ghankay Taylor through the ministry of finance to instruct the agent of Liberia LISCR (Liberia International Ship Registry) to pay $649,000 to a company for the purchase of two helicopters. These helicopters were never military helicopters; these helicopters were used to bring wounded people, to transport the police and SSS (Special Security Service) all over the country,” he said.

Urey said he did not purchase the helicopters directly and wandered why the agents of the Liberian International Ship Registry who purchased the helicopters are not the ones on the U.N. assets freeze and travel ban.

He said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had asked the U.N. to end the travel ban because it does not add to her efforts to reconcile the country after 14 years of civil war.

“The President of the republic of Liberia has gone a long way in trying to reconcile the country. She has asked that this whole thing about travel ban and assets freeze be dropped because she feels that it doesn’t go anywhere in reconciling the differences in the country. In addition, she has said that as far as she is concerned, we do not pose any security threat to this nation and the sub-region,” Urey said.

Urey said he not a threat to the security of country because he has more invested in the country than most Liberians.

“If anything that I want, I want stability, I want security and I want my people to be united that we can all more this country forward,” Urey said.