(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Catholic bishop says warlords should quit government

The Roman Catholic church in Liberia has said the country’s former warlords should not serve in the transitional government that is leading the country back to democracy and has urged that they should answer for the atrocities they committed before a war crimes tribunal.

Archbishop Michael Francis said in a statement issued on Friday that there was no place for former warlords in a “morally upright” government and called for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal.

The document, entitled “Liberia at the crossroads: hopes and challenges” said military commanders who played a prominent role in the country’s 14-year civil war should be prevented from taking office in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

Several hold prominent positions in the broad-based transitional government led by businessman Gyude Bryant, which is due to lead Liberia to fresh elections in October 2005.

Daniel Chea, who served as Defence Minister under former President Charles Taylor, has retained his job in the new government. And Thomas Nimely, the chairman of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) rebel group, has become Foreign Minister.

“Our nation has suffered greatly in the last 23 years, but most especially in the last 14 years of internecine warfare,” Archbishop Francis said.

“A war crimes tribunal may be a useful vehicle that may put an end to the culture of impunity so pervasive in our national life,” the outspoken bishop added.

A peace deal was signed in August between Taylor’s government, MODEL and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel movement a week after Taylor himself stepped down as president and went into exile.

Under the terms of the peace agreement, the warring factions each have the right to nominate five ministers each to the transitional government. No provision has been made to try any of those responsible for atrocities during the conflict.

In neighbouring Sierra Leone, a UN-backed Special Court has been set up to try those bearing the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during the country’s 10-year civil war.

Taylor has been indicted by that Special Court for his role in supporting Sierra Leone’s brutal rebel movement in return for diamonds. However, there is no mechanism to try him in Freetown for any atrocities he and his military commanders have committed at home in Liberia.

Archbishop Francis said the transitional government should make it a criminal offence for any individual or private group to own weapons in Liberia.

There are an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 thousand former combatants to be disarmed by the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia, which has not yet set a date for the process to begin.

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