Michael Francis: The betrayal of Liberia's peace hopes

From a talk by the Archbishop of Monrovia, given at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London
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The Independent Online

Last year we in the Liberian Inter-Religious Council consulted President Charles Taylor about the spreading war inside Liberia and sought his permission to contact the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) rebels. He gave us his blessing.

This led to a meeting where we discussed the need for peace. On 26 May last year we reached a verbal agreement with the Lurd that it was ready to meet the government. We sent a letter to President Taylor outlining that the rebels were prepared to talk.

The President thanked us, saying that we would hear back about this in a couple of weeks. We did not hear back, and then on 24 June the authorities arrested the newspaper editor Hassan Bility. After Bility was released we discovered that security officials had tried to make him falsely declare that we and other independent voices were Lurd collaborators. His arrest was a crude attempt by the government to undermine our efforts to seek a negotiated settlement.

No stabilisation force has arrived in Liberia despite raised expectations during President Bush's trip to Africa. Sekou Conneh, the Lurd leader, and his armed men have exploited this lack of action by their new offensive on Monrovia. They caught me by surprise; had I known they planned another attack I would not have travelled abroad at this time.

The era of warlords must close. We need an international stabilisation force to enter Liberia quickly to help us to close this traumatic chapter.