Ghadaffi, Compaore Named External Actors in Liberian Conflict

The Daily Observer (Liberia)

Ghadaffi, Compaore Named External Actors in Liberian Conflict
December 14, 2009
MONROVIA – Several international players in the decade-long Liberian armed conflict have been identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
In its final report, the TRC indicated that the Liberian war was complicated by regional politics, personal connections and insecurity.
It quoted former U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Herman Cohen, who some months ago testified before the Commission in the US, as saying, “We knew that these guerilla fighters had been trained in Libya and that their arms had come from Burkina Faso, and they were getting full support from Côte d’Ivoire.”
For example, in the first civil war, Taylor’s forces secured experts from Libya and Burkina Faso to embed land mines in Liberia. Côte d’Ivoire served as a transit route for equipment and personnel sent from Burkina Faso and Libya. Gaddafi loaned Taylor planes for use by the arms dealers with whom the former warlord dealt, the report added.
Côte d’Ivoire
The TRC’s final report indicated that the backing of Côte d’Ivoire was politically, personally, geographically and financially important to Charles Taylor.
“Côte d’Ivoire’s combination of geographical convenience and unstable government provided Taylor the platform he needed to eventually gain power in Liberia,” it reads.
The late president Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Côte d’Ivoire was, at the time, one of the principal regional supporters of Taylor’s military campaign in Liberia.
The report said Côte d’Ivoire was geographically strategic in allowing Taylor to establish his base, given that its “corridor … provided convenient, regular passage for truckloads of arms and ammunitions destined for Taylor’s rebel forces.”
“Its border with Liberia allowed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) to recruit fighters along the Ivorian frontier in preparation for its attack on Liberia. Côte d’Ivoire’s political leverage was also a significant factor in Taylor’s war efforts.”
At the time of Taylor’s campaign, Côte d’Ivoire was France’s most prominent ally in West Africa. Arguably, this international recognition, along with Côte d’Ivoire’s political connections and diplomatic facilities, was one of the most important benefits to Taylor.
One possible factor affecting the onset and duration of Liberia’s war was the French influence in the region. France’s wariness of Nigeria’s rise as a regional power led to chilly relations between the two states, the report indicated.
“As a result, France had discouraged its former colonies, such as Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, from engaging in any peace agreements which would have raised Nigerian influence in the region,” TRC further reported.
The Ivorian government, the report pointed out, also provided Taylor and his rebels with other material goods and services, including cantonment, “military intelligence, transportation facilities, safe haven for retreating rebels, and medical assistance for wounded rebels.”
It also played a role in Liberia’s diamond and arms trade. Côte d’Ivoire facilitated the smuggling of diamonds from Liberia, as well as weapons shipments into Liberia. Taylor’s financial backers also used Abidjan as a venue to convene and cut their deals on arms, communication resources and training.
Furthermore, the TRC final report added, Côte d’Ivoire provided protection to Taylor’s relatives, who resided there.
After Houphouet-Boigny’s death in 1993, Taylor maintained close relationships with both successors, Henri Konan Bedie and Robert Gueï. Those connections, the report maintains, enabled him to continue the arms transfers and other activities. When Gueï was ousted from the presidency after the 2000 elections, the alliance shifted toward plotting a coup against Ivorian President, Laurent Gbagbo.
The TRC further indicated that Taylor opposed Gbagbo and sought to destabilize the Côte d’Ivoire, whose government had developed relationships with and recruited combatants from Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).
“Also, Taylor purportedly wanted to establish a base in Côte d’Ivoire should he need to leave Liberia; gain control over Ivorian seaports that were vital to Liberia’s timber exports; and establish an armed line of defense to stop LURD and MODEL incursions into Liberia. Thus, Taylor supported two rebel groups, the Popular Movement of the Ivorian Great West (MPIGO) and the Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP), which launched an offensive on Danané from Liberia on November 28, 2002,” TRC pointed out.
The final report added that while the Liberian government denied any involvement, Danané residents reported that Liberian security, Anti-terrorist Unity (ATU) or former NPFL fighters, constituted 90 percent of the rebels.
Burkina Faso
The report pointed out that Burkina Faso played a supporting role to Taylor and the NPFL, and that its president, Blaise Compaore, was a significant figure in the events leading up to Taylor’s armed rebellion.
“It is likely that at least part of the motivation for Burkinabe support for Taylor was personal. Accounts suggest that Compaore ordered [the assassination of] former Burkinabe President, Thomas Sankara… and that Taylor, who arrived in Burkina Faso at approximately the time of President Sankara’s assassination in October 1987, was involved in the murder. Compaore was also married to Ivorian President, Houphouet-Boigny’s daughter, the widow of Adolphus Tolbert,” said the TRC.
Given the strong relationship between Compaore and Houphouet-Boigny and their shared hostility toward former Liberian president, Samuel Doe, it is believed that Houphouet-Boigny persuaded Compaore to support Taylor’s efforts to overthrow Doe as revenge for Tolbert’s murder.
Compaore continued his support for Taylor despite international pressure and the humanitarian disaster that ensued in Liberia: “He kept going because he had an investment in Charles Taylor, and he wanted absolutely for Charles Taylor to win, and he did not trust the West African forces because he opposed the operation.”
Perhaps one of Compaore’s most significant acts was his introduction of Taylor to the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi. It was Compaore who convinced Gaddafi that Taylor possessed the military and diplomatic credentials necessary to overthrow the Doe government.
Burkina Faso also helped facilitate arms transfers to Taylor by serving as a transfer site for weapons en route to Liberia.
Despite assurances he would stop supplying arms to Taylor, Compaore continued his support for Taylor. Burkinabe banks also harbored diverted funds for Taylor, who had at least two Burkinabe bank accounts under the name of Jean Pierre Somé.
Burkina Faso also served as a recruiting ground for the NPFL’s ranks, the report added.
A generation of young Burkinabe men was alienated during the country’s economic crisis in the mid 1980s, and it was largely these disaffected youth who traveled to the NPFL training camps in Libya and Burkina Faso. In fact, Taylor’s 1989 invasion involved not only Gio and Mano combatants, but also Burkinabe soldiers, according to the Commission.
Statement givers confirmed the belief that Burkina Faso’s support enabled Taylor to train his soldiers.
Libya
The TRC asserted that while the full extent of Libya’s involvement in the Liberian conflict may never be known, NGOs and other scholars have documented Libya’s role in facilitating the Liberian civil war – particularly through the actions of its leader, Gaddafi.
A portion of the resources and training that fueled the war is believed to have been supplied by Libya. When Doe took power in 1980, Libya was the first to recognize the new regime and readily acted to foster diplomacy between the two states.
In addition to the diplomatic ties with the Doe regime, Libyans had also established a business presence in Liberia during the 1980s, owning the Pan-African Plaza office block and Union Glass Factory.
The relationship cooled as Doe accepted more and more American support – including a purported $10 million in cash on condition that Doe would cancel a scheduled visit to Libya. Liberia’s diplomatic overtures toward Israel further abated relations between Liberia and Libya, which led to the expulsion of Libyan diplomats and Libya’s severance of ties with Liberia.
In 1985, however, as his relationship with the U.S. began to sour, Doe re-initiated dialogue with Libya and paid the country a visit in 1988. Even with reestablished ties and warmer relations with the Doe government in the mid- to late 1980s, Gaddafi pursued other avenues of influence in Liberia and acted to support Liberian dissidents.
Moses Blah, who served as Charles Taylor’s Vice President, testified that Gaddafi’s Libyan government ran training camps, which taught fighters how to use AK-47 assault rifles and surface-to-air-missiles. In response to Doe’s involvement with the United States, Gaddafi directed Libyan agents to begin recruiting, arming and funding Liberian dissidents throughout the region, including Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Ghana.
It has been reported that “several hundred Liberians were trained in Libya at least three different terrorist camps.” Those who trained in Libya included, inter alia, former Ministers, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh and Samuel Dokie; Prince Johnson; and Benjamin Yeaten, future head of Taylor’s Special Security Service, the TRC final report added.
Perhaps the most important figure to be trained in Libya was Charles Taylor, who was reportedly trained in one of Libya’s camps at Mathaba in 1985.
Following Taylor’s release from a Ghanaian jail, he began traveling between a new home in the capital of Burkina Faso, paid for by Libyan funds, and Tripoli. The al-Mathabh al Thauriya al-Alamiya (“World Revolutionary Headquarters”) was an operation set up by the Libyan secret service to provide training on counter-insurgency warfare. Thus, when the Libyan government chose to support the NPFL, Taylor suddenly had access to a foreign government with the finances to support a large scale insurgency.
Taylor was reportedly personally encouraged by Gaddafi to recruit fighters in preparation for the December 1989 assault against Doe.
Libya furnished the NPFL leader with a cache of weaponry and millions of dollars to support his insurgency. The relationship between Gaddafi and Taylor apparently continued through Taylor’s presidency. After his inauguration, President Taylor made several trips to Libya for talks with Gaddafi.
Even in the closing days of his presidency, Taylor received support from Libya, reportedly flying to Libya to obtain weaponry in 2003. Just prior to Taylor’s departure from Liberia in 2003, Nigerian peacekeepers controlling the airport confiscated a shipment of weapons, believed to have come from Libya.
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