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  War in Liberia threatens peace in Sierra Leone – and security across West Africa

Freetown/Brussels, 24 April 2002: Sierra Leone's fragile peace is being threatened by the continuation of the war in neighbouring Liberia. A new ICG report published today, Liberia: The Key to Ending Regional Instability, argues that Liberian President Charles Taylor's campaign to destabilise the region has come back to haunt him, with his enemies now returning the fight to his doorstep. The threat of open warfare across the region persists as long as Taylor's regime remains the primary cause of instability in West Africa.

ICG Africa Co-Director Fabienne Hara said: "The international community's success in Sierra Leone is threatened by Taylor, who continues to violate UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions. He has a history of using peace agreements to secure tactical military advantage. The current Mano River Union peace process is being used by Taylor to buy time in his battle with the rebel forces of LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) and demand sanctions against Guinea. The remnants of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) sponsored by Taylor and now based in Liberia still pose a serious threat to Sierra Leone".

The UN Security Council arms embargo and diamond and travel sanctions currently in force against Liberia are due to expire in May. Much of the international debate about Liberia centres on pursuing a policy of engagement versus containment. ICG Sierra Leone Project Director Dr Comfort Ero argues that these are false choices. "Engagement threatens to guarantee Taylor another unfair election victory in 2003, while containment could produce a protracted civil war or descent into chaos if Taylor is removed without a viable opposition ready to take over."

ICG urges the international community to take a two-track approach of pressure (including maintaining sanctions) and "principled" engagement to obtain a negotiated solution that ends Liberia's conflict and secures fundamental reforms. The principal objective of this approach should be to achieve genuinely free and fair elections in 2003 to let Liberians decide the question of their leadership for themselves.

This two-track approach should be complemented by a drive for international consensus on the way forward for Liberia, and a concerted effort to foster change from within by empowering civil society and promoting opposition unity. Dr. Ero said: "Success will depend not only on pressuring Taylor to strike a deal and enable a fair vote to take place at the end of his term, but also on whether the opposition can unify. Because of its influence on Taylor, seeking Libyan cooperation will also be important".


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