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Liberia Says It Will Go Ahead With October Elections Despite Its Battle Against Rebels - 2003-01-20

The Liberian government says it will go ahead with plans to conduct general elections this year, despite continuous fighting with rebels of Liberians United for Democracy, or LURD. Opposition groups outside Liberia accuse the government of trying to disenfranchise voters in rebel control areas. But the government says it is working in accordance with the country’s constitution. Liberia’s constitution mandates that general elections be held in October this year. And the government of President Charles Taylor says it has no intention of changing that date. Liberia’s Charge D’affair to the United States, Aaron Kollie, says the government does not want to be accused of tampering with the laws of the land and has gone ahead to provide the necessary support for an independent electoral commission. "Government’s commitment to a free, fair, orderly and transparent election remains firm. To ensure this process, or to encourage this process, President Taylor has signed in to law an amendment to the elections law that allows for two additional members to the elections commission to be nominated by political parties to enhance the capacity of the commission. Let it be made emphatically clear that the conduct of national elections is the sole responsibility of the national government through an independent elections commission. This is why the government of Liberia has provided resources at the disposal of the commission." Different opposition groups outside Liberia are calling for a total boycott of the proposed election, saying the government wants to deliberately disenfranchise Liberian voters who’re caught up in rebel controlled areas. Recently, former interim Liberian leader Professor Amos Sawyer says there will be no free and fair elections under the leadership of President Charles Taylor. "When we’re dealing with a situation where the constitution is only a piece of paper, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference. And I think if we begin to just play the game of doing things in per functionary manner only because we want to keep constitutional dates then we’re playing Mr. Taylor’s game. I think the important thing is to put together an agenda in which Liberians can begin to find their way out of this difficulty." The issue of constitutional correctness appears to be an important part of this debate. Liberia’s Charge d’affairs Aaron Kollie argues that although professor Sawyer refers to the constitution as a piece of paper, he played an important role in the writing of Liberia’s current constitution. "I would like to go back during the period of the 1990s or 1980s, those who were architects of the Liberian constitution, including Dr. Amos Sawyer and other Liberian legal minds, they exercised ill-judgment in being very short-sighted." The rebel group, LURD, meanwhile continues its battle to remove President Taylor from power. And most Liberians are not sure free and fair elections will be conducted under such circumstances. "It’s the Liberian people who have to address this question. On the part of the government, the commitment remains clear that we’re going to hold elections in keeping with the timetable and the schedule for these elections-all of these variables. It’s a very important question. Are we going to disenfranchise other Liberians in conflict areas?" Mr. Kollie says the Liberian government remains committed to entering into negotiations with the rebels, and also to meet with opposition parties. He says he hopes negotiations could bring the realization that violence is not the way out of Liberia’s problems. But so far, the rebels have refused the government’s offer and insist the only way out is for Mr. Taylor to leave power.