By Robert M. Press, writer of The Christian Science Monitor Daxx:Monrovia And Gbarnga, Liberia
The Christian Science Monitor
NEARLY 16 months after a cease-fire in Liberia's civil war, this Louisiana-sized nation is torn between five armies and two men claiming to be president.
Rebels control the entire country except Monrovia, the seaside capital, where a civilian interim government operates under the protection of a West African peacekeeping force. The economy is stalled. Road blocks continue to hamper deliveries of relief materials and development efforts, according to relief officials. Human rights groups cite violations by all factions.
Returning Liberia to some degree of normalcy will require the cooperation of rebel leader Charles Taylor, interim government President Amos Sawyer, and international aid and relief support.
There is a "good possibility" of elections this year, says United States Ambassador to Liberia Peter Jon de Vos. But "until there's a final settlement, all can go wrong," he says.
Mr. Taylor launched the rebellion in December 1989 against President Samuel Doe. At the height of the conflict, in August 1990, five West African nations - Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia, and Sierra Leone - sent troops to Monrovia and pushed Taylor's rebels out of the capital. Three weeks later, Doe was slain by a small rebel band under Prince Yormic Johnson, who had broken away from Taylor. Relief officials estimate that more than 20,000 persons died during the war.
Mali and Senegal have since joined the peacekeeping force. Under the banner of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West Africans brokered a cease-fire and backed the interim government in November 1990.
The peacekeeping forces intend to stay until Liberia holds "free and fair elections" for a president and a parliament, says Nigerian Maj. Gen. Ishaya Bakut, commander of the peacekeeping forces.
At an ECOWAS-sponsored summit in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, in October 1991, interim President Sawyer and Taylor, head of the National Patriotic Forces of Liberia, agreed to disarm troops by Jan. 15 and hold elections in April. However, little progress has been made in satisfying pre-election conditions, including the disarming of rebel forces and the opening of roads into the interior.
Today, three armies reside in Monrovia - the 7,000-strong West African force, Prince Johnson's splinter group, and remnants of Doe's Army. Taylor's rebels control the rest of the country, and a small ethnic band continues to oppose Taylor in the north.
Both sides accuse the other of deliberately delaying the peace process.
Sitting behind double doors in the executive mansion here, Sawyer, a former political science professor, told the Monitor: "The state of 'no war, no peace' has been very profitable for Mr. Taylor. He has had exclusive use of the timber resources of our country. He has signed all sorts of agreements with French concessionaires. …