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31.08.2004 General News

Liberian conflict: Source of mercenary force in West Africa

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Accra, Aug. 31, GNA - Mr Monie R. Captan, former Liberian Foreign Minister, on Tuesday said the prolonged Liberian conflict, had created a pool of experienced combatants actively engaged in mercenary activities in the West African sub-region.

He alleged that the recruitment and participation of various West African nationals in various Liberian armed insurgency groups, had led to the creation of a very active mercenary force and pool of experienced combatants in the sub-region.

Speaking at a forum organised by the African Security Dialogue and Research (ASDR) in Accra dubbed "Reflections", Mr Captan said mercenaries and insurgents were freely roaming the sub-region as ECOWAS citizens and would remain an integral factor in civil conflicts in the sub-region.

The forum is aimed at offering a platform for the academia, politicians, security experts and other professional think tanks to deliberate on a broad spectrum of topics.

Mr Captan said the activities of mercenaries and insurgents could not be controlled through the effort of any single state in the sub-region, but through the collective effort and commitment of ECOWAS through a common policy.

Mr Captan, who was Foreign Minister under exiled leader Charles Taylor, alleged that during the various phases of the Liberian civil war, Sierra Leoneans, Ivorians, Burkinabes, Ghanaians, Gambians, Senegalese, Guineans, among other nationalities, fought for at least one faction.

The same had occurred, with Liberians involved, in other conflicts that had emerged in the sub-region, including conflicts in Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, and Cote d'Ivoire.

Mr Captan condemned the international community's legitimisation of armed insurgents through various mediation processes, thus transforming them into major power brokers in the sub-region.

Mr Captan urged the international community to seek strategies to end armed insurgency by defining a limit to the appeasement of insurgent groups, thus lowering the motivation and expectation of future or recurrent armed insurgents in the sub-region.

"It is now common practice and expectation to obtain a government ministerial post by simply being an influential member of an armed insurgency."

He said the logic of the exchange of arms for political power was a dangerous precedent as it clearly outlined the strategy for obtaining political power, which was the pursuit and use of military power.

"Such logic leads to the belief that civil society does not deserve to participate in governance because civil society has no guns to give up and therefore not a major factor and contributor to the peace process."

Mr Captan said the situation created the grounds for civil society to see itself simply as a beneficiary of the benevolence of warring factions who had liberated them and brought peace.

When these benevolent liberators lose power after elections, they return to the only strategies they know for obtaining political power, armed insurrection.

Mr Captan said appeasing armed insurgents with ministerial appointments was contrary to mediation processes carried out by ECOWAS.

Mr Captan said the principles of ECOWAS called for a zero tolerance for any attempt to seize power through unconstitutional and undemocratic means, a policy also emphasized by the Algiers Declaration of 1999 of the then Organisation of African Unity.

It seems, however, in practice, that it was acceptable to seize power through negotiation with ECOWAS, he said.

Insurgent groups had simply placed a condition that unless they were given power, they would not surrender their arms, he added. Mr Captan said ECOWAS had had to yield to such demands because of its incapacity to mobilize and support a credible force that could effectively threaten and coerce insurgents into cooperation.

He said the donor community had also shied away from supporting robust peacekeeping operations because of the huge cost and therefore encouraged a policy of appeasement, which required far less donor input for the implementation of a peace process.

"Simply put, it's the cheap way out, regardless of the long term implication for regional stability", he noted.

He urged ECOWAS to invest in the stability of the region by building a credible military force, the creation of the ECOWAS Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), under Article 21 of the Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peace-Keeping and Security.

He said ECOWAS must think realistically and develop a reasonably sized, but well trained, well-equipped rapid response force capable of timely response to conflicts in the region.

Such a force must be manageable in terms of ECOWAS capacity to fund it on its own. 31 Aug. 04