Saved by a bribe after night of interrogation
By Lutz Kleveman

Daily Telegraph
(Filed: 17/05/2001)

AT a checkpoint near Gbanga, a photographer and I were arrested by heavily armed military police who took us to their headquarters in Monrovia.

There, in a dingy room lit by candles for lack of electricity, seven officers interrogated us until midnight about our "mission" in Liberia.

We were accused of military espionage and all films, notebooks and passports were confiscated. Our requests for consular representation were laughed at, but a witness to our arrest had alerted a representative of the European Union who intervened on our behalf.

We were freed next day only after paying a hefty bribe. Before boarding the plane out of Liberia we learned that the police commanding officer had in turn been arrested, apparently for not sharing the bribe with his superiors.




New war at home for rebel-backing Taylor
By Lutz Kleveman in Monrovia

Daily Telegraph
(Filed: 17/05/2001)

A LEADER of Sierra Leone's rebel movement has admitted that President Charles Taylor of Liberia supported and even directly controlled the rebels.

Omri Golley, head of the Revolutionary United Front delegation in peace talks with the Sierra Leone government, told The Telegraph: "Taylor was in complete control of the RUF until about two weeks ago. He decided everything the RUF did."

The RUF leader was speaking shortly after the United Nations Security Council imposed British-sponsored sanctions on Liberia in an effort to quell the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone. The 12-month embargo on diamond exports and a travel ban on senior government officials came after UN reports accused Mr Taylor of diamond smuggling and gun running to help the RUF, which is linked to widespread atrocities over the past decade.

In early March Mr Taylor, who was one of Liberia's most brutal faction leaders in its civil war before his election in 1997, was given two months to show he had cut all ties with the RUF. The UN now says he has not proved his innocence.

The Liberian government denies that it ever helped the RUF, calling the sanctions "unjust and unfair". It claims that it froze the bank accounts of senior rebels, banned the import of uncertified diamonds and expelled a an RUF leader known as Commander Mosquito.

Reginald Goodrich, the Information Minister, said: "The UN never set up an independent and transparent mechanism to verify that we had complied with their demands. The sanctions seem to have been entirely premeditated. All the allegations are absurd."

Mr Golley conceded that Mr Taylor recently cut his ties and support for the rebels in an effort to comply with UN demands. But the RUF leader said the Liberian warlord-turned-president had exploited the RUF's control of Sierra Leone's diamond mines since December 1998 for his own profit. He said: "We now feel abused by him, especially economically."

Reports from the region yesterday suggested that the RUF and government forces had agreed to start disarming their fighters this week to secure a ceasefire. Ironically these positive signs come as Liberia appears to be moving in the other direction, with Mr Taylor's regime slipping into a paranoid siege mentality.

The prevailing insecurity was starkly highlighted on a street just below the presidential mansion. A jeep driven by members of the infamous Anti-Terrorist Unit crashed into a civilian vehicle, sending its driver through the windscreen.

Within two minutes some 50 other sinister-looking ATU soldiers, menacing scorpion badges displayed on their olive-green combat uniforms, rushed down the hill from the mansion. Shouting and brandishing machine-guns to keep the crowd around the scene in check, the ATU men fetched their colleagues and sped back inside the mansion compound. A Liberian passer-by said: "They take no chances."

Mr Taylor's troubles are compounded by the outbreak of new fighting which threatens to engulf the impoverished country. The insurgents have gained control of much of Lofa county in the north. Even state-controlled media last week admitted that government forces were in retreat.

Foreign diplomats were officially advised not to travel outside Monrovia, or within the capital at night. On the road leading to the new war zone, the military, police and ATU fighters set up checkpoints to keep rebels from infiltrating the capital.

Lorries full of heavily armed soldiers raced eastwards, past charred and bullet-riddled ruins and giant propaganda billboards extolling Mr Taylor's leadership. In Gbanga, Mr Taylor's headquarters during the civil war of the 1990s and now the country's second capital, people were preparing to flee.

Refugees from Lofa county were streaming out of the bush, carrying no luggage except for the clothes on their gaunt bodies. In a refugee camp just west of Gbanga, hastily set up by the UN-run World Food Programme, about 15,000 people, most of them women and children, clustered around the buildings of a former ATU training college.

The Taylor regime has accused neighbouring Guinea, Sierra Leone and indirectly Britain of backing the uprising. Captured rebels who were paraded on television "confessed" that they had been armed and trained by the British troops stationed in Sierra Leone.

When asked for an independent interview, the state authorities were unable to produce any of the alleged rebel prisoners alive.