Liberian Civilians Seek Ban on Natural Resources Trade

MONROVIA, Liberia, July 22, 2003 (ENS) - A halt to extraction and trade of Liberian gold, diamonds and timber would help stop the fighting that has killed at least 600 civilians in the capital in the past five days, according to the Environmental Lawyers Association of Liberia and two other nongovernmental organizations.

The three Liberian organizations have called on all the parties attending the Peace Talks on Liberia taking place today in Dakar, Senegal to agree that an immediate moratorium on all commercial activities in Liberian extractive industries until general elections are held and a national government with control over the entire country is inaugurated be part of whatever settlement is reached.

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Trees in a Liberian forest (Photo courtesy Liberian Connection)
"Throughout this terrible crisis the warring parties have financed themselves through the exploitation and export of Liberia's natural resources, particularly timber and diamonds, the coalition said.

The proposed moratorium would complement the current United Nations ban on Liberian timber. In addition, the coalition seeks a ban on gold and diamond mining, the export of diamonds, and a halt to the negotiation of new concession agreements before general elections.

The NGO Coalition of Liberia presently includes The Environmental Lawyers Association of Liberia, Inc., the Save My Future Foundation, and the Grand Gedeh Community Servants Association, and spokesman Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor says they have reached out to other organizations both in Liberia and overseas in an effort to broaden the coalition.

The groups say funds from the sale of timber and diamonds have helped to prolong the conflict and "exacerbated the security and humanitarian crisis in the country and the entire sub-region."

"It is against this background that we are also calling on the United Nations Security Council, the International Contact Group on Liberia, and the facilitators and mediators at the Ghana Peace Talks to acknowledge that revenue from the continued exploitation and trade of Liberia’s natural resources has fueled the country’s conflict and that it has hindered the search for a peaceful settlement," the coalition said.

Until general elections are held and a national government with control over the entire country is inaugurated, and the power to ratify concession agreements is returned to the Liberian legislature as provided for in the Liberian constitution, no extraction of gold, timber or diamonds should be permitted, the NGO coalition says.

Until an elected Liberian government can satisfy all the conditions for the international Kimberly process that certifies the sale of diamonds is not being used to fund conflicts, the coalition says no Liberian diamonds should be extracted or sold.

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These Liberian women and children are fortunate to have some food to cook. (Photo courtesy International Committee of the Red Cross)
Forest law enforcement and governance institutions and mechanisms must be "rehabilitated and functional throughout the country" before timber extraction is allowed, the NGOs say.

The coalition also calls on the International Contact Group on Liberia and the facilitators and mediators at the Ghana Peace Talks to "acknowledge that revenue from the continuous exploitation and trade of Liberia’s natural resources would serve as a disincentive for the parties in the search for a peaceful settlement."

The groups are asking that their proposal be integrated into the agenda for the ongoing negotiation, and that environmental concerns, especially forest management issues, are included in the deliberations.

Top United Nations officials are calling for an immediate halt to hostilities in Monrovia. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that Liberia is “poised between hope and disaster.” A spokesman for the secretary-general called on the parties concerned and, in particular, the Liberians United for Democracy and Reconciliation (LUDR), to fully observe a ceasefire. Today LUDR did implement a ceasefire for several hours.

Annan urged all the stakeholders at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) led Liberian Peace Talks to "ensure a speedy conclusion of a negotiated settlement."

West African peacekeeping forces have been promised to Liberia by regional leaders meeting in Dakar, Senegal, today to discuss the crisis.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said today that U.S. representatives are meeting with ECOWAS officials in Senegal to discuss what role the United States will play in peacekeeping in Liberia. President George W. Bush has not yet decided whether or not U.S. troops will join a peacekeeping force in the war torn country.

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Displaced people are seeking shelter in churches, such as the Providence Baptist Church, Monrovia's oldest church built in the 1890s. (Photo courtesy Liberian Connection)
U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said today,"The United States is working very hard with West Africans and others to try to get the parties to implement the ceasefire that they have agreed to, and to reach further agreements that they have agreed to, in terms of pursuing the Accra process in Ghana, where they all agreed to a ceasefire, and they all agreed to make the agreement permanent, comprehensive."

Rudd Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told reporters through a spokesman in Geneva today that the agency is "gravely concerned over the horrific situation and the fate of tens of thousands of displaced people and refugees now jamming the streets of Monrovia."

Many terrified people are again seeking refuge in the UNHCR compound in the capital’s Mamba Point district, including hundreds of Sierra Leonean refugees who have been awaiting emergency evacuation, the spokesman said.

The agency said it fears the situation is rapidly developing into a humanitarian catastrophe. “Thousands of people are crowded into churches, schools and other temporary shelters without running water or food. Many of them need help now, but as long as the fighting continues, there is no way that we can get supplies to them,” said Gregory Blamoh, the UN World Food Programme's officer in charge in Monrovia.

The previous attacks on Monrovia have displaced around 200,000 people, many of who were too afraid to go home when the clashes subsided. Blamoh said that the latest battles have forced even more people to flee, with many heading east towards the airport. While it is extremely difficult to get an accurate idea of the number of people who have now been displaced, some estimates put the figure at over 300,000.