Peace that never came

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The Independent Online
The escalating violence that seems set to drag Liberia into a new civil war comes at a time when the country seemed close to a lasting peace.

After six years of civil war drawn along ethnic lines, Liberians rejoiced when a peace accord was signed last summer, setting up an interim government to prepare the West African nation for elections this summer.

Three rebel leaders, including Charles Taylor, who sparked the war in 1989, were put on a six-man interim ruling council, and 7,000 peacekeepers were sent in to disarm the rebels.

When the interim government was seated on 1 September 1995, hundreds of thousands of Liberians lined the streets, weeping and cheering as the men who had ruined their country were honoured in a lavish ceremony.

But the seven warring factions continued to clash over territory and power, until the murder charge against warlord Roosevelt Johnson last week prompted the worst fighting in the capital in three years.

The recent peace accord was the 13th in the last six years, finally reached because of the fatigue of the warlords and pressure from other West African nations.

The United Nations had also threatened to end its observer mission if peace were not maintained, a move that would have sent a message that Liberia was a lost cause.

Now that this accord, too, has failed, Liberia may finally lose the support it has enjoyed.

"It will take time for the Liberian parties to be able to regain the confidence of the international community, that they are committed to the [peace] agreement," said Anthony B Nyakyi, the UN envoy to Liberia.

The conflict has killed more than 150,000 people and left at least half of the country's 2.3 million residents homeless.

For years, Liberia was the continent's biggest per capita recipient of US aid, despite its abysmal human rights record.

It provided a convenient base for CIA anti-Libya activities and for the shipment of arms to guerrillas fighting the Soviet-backed government in Angola.