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Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 03:30 GMT 04:30 UK
Liberia fishes in troubled waters
Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor: Accused of prolonging neighbour's war

By News Online's Martin Asser

Unlike the former colonial rulers, the people enriching themselves through Sierra Leonean diamonds today have little incentive to guarantee stability.

One of those - if recent investigations into diamond smuggling are to be believed - is President Charles "Chuckie" Taylor of neighbouring Liberia.

Sierra Leone mines some of the world's best diamonds in terms of size and quality, and the predatory forces encroaching on the diamond trade since 1991 have thrived on war and lawlessness to cover their activities.

Taylor, like Sankoh, put boys at the sharp end of the rebellion
Western intelligence reports say Liberia is the main conduit for smuggled diamonds out of Sierra Leone, while Mr Taylor, a long-time ally of Sierra Leone's rebel leader Foday Sankoh, has supplied many of the weapons and drugs that have fuelled the civil war.

Mr Taylor still maintains close links with field commanders of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which now controls most of the diamond producing areas in north and east Sierra Leone.

Major crime centre

Mr Taylor has always denied playing a destabilising role in Sierra Leone, but his protestations are hard to square with the available data.

A girl's best friend...
Liberia's annual capacity for diamond mining is 100,000-150,000 carats, but imports of diamonds from Liberia to Belgium, where more than half the world's rough stones are traded, rose to 6 million carats in the late 1990s as the war in Sierra Leone was raging.

A recent study by Partnership Africa Canada says Liberia has become "a major centre for massive diamond-related criminal activity, with connections to guns, drugs and money laundering throughout Africa and considerably further afield".

...or not: A victim of Sierra Leone's RUF
The Ottawa-based group says Liberia has supplied weapons to rebels in a number of diamond producing countries "fuelling war and providing a safe haven for organised crime of all sorts".

Warlord statesman

Charles Taylor launched a military rebellion against the government of Samuel Doe in late 1989 which led to six years of bitter civil war.

His rise was mirrored by that of the RUF, the rebel organisation set up by Foday Sankoh in 1991, with the help of Mr Taylor.

Both rebel armies used brutal tactics to terrorise the civilian populations and put children in the front line.

After killing some 200,000 Liberians and displacing hundreds of thousands more, the war ground to a halt and Mr Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) scored an overwhelming election victory in July 1997.

Since his political victory he has sought portray himself in the role of as measured statesman rather than warlord.

His recent "good offices" between the rebels and the United Nations in Sierra Leone are being seen as an attempt to enhance that image.

Certainly, Liberia has benefited in terms of stability since Mr Taylor was elected, but as the recent closure of two independent radio stations attests - they had broadcast items critical of the government - he still holds the country in a iron grip.

Sierra Leone in crisis

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