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US Ambassador Assesses Liberia's Economic and Political Situation - 2003-01-02

The United States ambassador to Liberia says there is a compelling need to end the ongoing rebel war in the north of the country. Ambassador John Blaney, in a news conference Thursday also reacted to criticism by Liberian President Charles Taylor that the United States is working against the interests of his government.

The US Ambassador’s press conference addressed a wide-range of issues: the ongoing rebellion in northwestern Liberia – the country’s ailing economy – the state of Liberia/US relations and this year’s general & presidential elections.

He says the international community, including the United States, is determined to help end Liberia’s problems.

Commenting on efforts to end the rebel war in the north, Ambassador Blaney says the United States is pleased with the level of engagement started by the ICGL - the International Contact Group on Liberia.

The United States is a member of the group, along with France, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the regional body, ECOWAS.

Ambassador Blaney says the International Contact Group represents the best opportunity for peace and reconciliation in Liberia.

The US envoy warns that there can be no military solution to Liberia’s problems.

He says, “Indeed, the Government of Liberia, opposition parties both here and abroad, other governments concerned, including Guinea, and other social and religious groups in Liberia also need to work and cooperate with the ICG if peace is to be attained. What will be unacceptable, in the view of the United States, will be any attempt to shift the focus of negotiations to another venue. Perpetually switching the location and composition of peace talks is one of the oldest tactics and tricks in the world for ensuring the failure of peace negotiations. In fact, the United States will regard any party that attempts to walk away from the ICG as essentially an opponent of peace; and should be condemned as anti-peace”.

Ambassador Blaney criticizes the Taylor administration’s economic policies, describing them – highly inadequate and not transparent.

He, however, says the country’s economic situation is not hopeless. The US envoy wants the Taylor government to take strong reform measures -- such as those recommended by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the United States.

The ambassador says, “The government should not attempt to search for scapegoats such as the UN’s quite limited sanctions regime or foreign governments in order to explain why the electric power is not on, or why other services in health, education, transportation and elsewhere have not been provided. Government should instead, look honestly into a mirror, and accept primary responsibility”.

Ambassador Blaney also commented on Liberia’s general and presidential elections, due to take place in October this year.

He says preparations for the elections are inadequate and that necessary conditions do not exit to conduct free, fair and credible elections. He says, “Harassment of opposition party representatives and opposition party activities as well as the prospect of severely limiting candidates who may run for the presidency are just some of the other worrisome developments. Let me say plainly that the United States wants to see a free and fair election and will not support nor recognize the result of any fraudulent one”.

Ambassador Blaney says the United States will continue to help Liberians despite criticism of U-S policies toward Liberia by President Taylor and his officials.

Responding to a call by President Taylor for his ruling party members to demonstrate against the US, Ambassador says he’s saddened at the prospect of seeing Liberians demonstrating against America.