LIBERIA: IRIN special report on reconciliation [19990903]

LIBERIA: IRIN special report on reconciliation [19990903]

LIBERIA: IRIN special report on reconciliation

MONROVIA, 3 September (IRIN) - Clashes in northwest Liberia between rebels and government troops and speculation on the possible involvement of former faction leaders in the fighting have drawn attention here to the issue of national reconciliation.

President Charles Taylor said at a meeting with opinion leaders on 16 August, just under a week after the fighting broke out in Lofa County, that the government "has done everything possible to reconcile with former warring factions".

"I have spoken to (former faction leader) Alhaji Kromah in Guinea many times and offered him the job of chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission," Taylor said, "and he accepted it but later on turned it down."

Taylor said other examples of his government's efforts to promote reconciliation included financial help it gave to another faction leader, Roosevelt Johnson, to enable him to receive medical treatment in the United States and the creation of a government of national unity after he won elections in August 1997.

Taylor's remarks were in response to a suggestion that he should intensify efforts to bring former faction leaders back to Liberia.

"Do you think that those who took up arms along with you [the other faction leaders] are comfortable sitting where they are after having tasted the power of government administration?" a prominent criminal lawyer, Marcus Jones, asked Taylor at the meeting. He was referring to the participation of all faction leaders in a 1995-1997 transitional government.

"Let everyone come and see how you talk, how you laugh, how you smile, how you hug," Jones said.

But questions have been raised about whether former rebel chiefs and opposition leaders would be safe if they returned to Liberia.

"If Mr Taylor is able to guarantee their security, then his offer is in good faith," a local source told IRIN, "but then he cannot be everywhere."

Mary Brownell, chair of the Liberian Women Initiative (LWI), an NGO involved in promoting reconciliation, told IRIN that if she was able to return to Liberia from New York and work with the government then the faction leaders could do the same.

"During the war the warlords thought I was out to destroy them and I was castigated and subjected to false accusations," she said. "When I left for the [United] States many thought I would never come back to Liberia, but I came back and have been trying to reconcile.

"For instance, the first lady asked me to accompany her to Cape Mount to distribute relief items and I did it."

Some argue that Taylor needs to offer the former faction leaders better jobs in government.

"These people were all on the Council together," one NGO source said. "Now Taylor is president. Do you think that Alhaji Koroma will accept the position of chairman of the reconciliation commission and Roosevelt Johnson will be happy as a minor minister? No, they need something better."

But doubts have also been raised over the sincerity of the former faction leaders.

"They pretend to have the interests of the common man at stake but we saw them when they were members of the Council, how they were riding around in their big cars," said a member of civil society. "They either come and work for the government or they keep their mouths closed and leave us alone," another said.

According to Brownell, reconciliation at grassroots level is just as important as reconciliation at the national level.

"The inhabitants of Liberia are so interwoven, so many tribes intermarry that there is no way for you to say that you are not a part of this country or tribe because we are all the same," she noted.

"The only thing we can do is try to talk to our people, put what has happened behind us, try to start anew and begin to rebuild," Mary Brownell told IRIN.


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Item: irin-english-1544

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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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