The Liberian government has described as "puzzling, unfair, wrong and double standards targeted at destroying Liberia" a UN Security Council decision on Tuesday to extend sanctions against it by a year and to ban its timber exports.
The UN, which first imposed sanctions in 2001, had said: "The Council decided that Liberia had not fully complied with its demand to immediately cease support for the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone and for other armed rebel groups in the region, as stipulated in resolution 1343."
The sanctions restrict travel by senior Liberian government members, ban the sale or supply of weapons to the Liberian government and all fighting groups in the country and outlaw the export of rough diamonds unless their origin were certified.
Liberia's Information Minister, Reginald Goodridge, told IRIN from the capital Monrovia on Wednesday that his government believes the Council acted under the influence of powerful nations which support its regional opponents. He named the United States and Britain.
"You have a situation where it is glaringly clear that Guinea is supporting rebel incursions into Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire is supporting 750 new rebels against us. We wonder why we are targeted alone," Goodridge said. "Now they have added timber. But we have a massive humanitarian crisis and need every dime to support our people."
The Council has demanded that regional countries cease military support to armed groups in neighbouring countries and refrain from further destabilising West Africa. Its experts found that Guinea, which supports the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, had violated the Liberian arms embargo.
Goodridge denied UN statements that Liberian timber was being exported to support rebels in neighbouring countries. "There are rebels all over the areas where timber is grown," Goodridge said. "There cannot be much timber activity in such areas. Talk of timber supporting wars is bullshit."
According to the UN, Chinese timber companies were involved with the Liberian government and armed rebels in violating the arms embargo through a network of Serbian arms dealers, using fake documents. Some of the companies delivered weapons to neighbouring countries, it added. Latest reports indicate that the companies had moved operations out of Greenville in the southeastern Liberian Sinoe County, due to rising insecurity.
Announcing the sanctions, the Council said it would consider how to minimize the humanitarian and socio-economic impact of the sanctions by September. It also said the sanctions could be reversed if information showing Liberian compliance were received. Exemptions from travel restrictions will however be made in cases that assist the peaceful resolution of regional conflict, it added.
The Council requested the Secretary General to establish, within three months, another panel of experts to carry out a five-month investigation into compliance with its demands by Liberia and neighbouring countries. The panel would also review Liberia's budgetary system and examine the role of the timber industry in embargo violations.
Meanwhile, Liberia has said is awaiting a request from the Sierra Leonean government before it can return the body of Sam Bockarie, who it said was killed during an exchange of fire on Tuesday, as he and his bodyguards attempted to cross into Liberia from Cote d'Ivoire.
A former Sierra Leone rebel leader, Bockarie was wanted for war crimes by a UN-backed special court. David Crane, the court prosecutor, has demanded that Liberia hand over the body to Sierra Leone for forensic examination and positive identification.
Goodridge told IRIN that the Sierra Leone embassy in Liberia had initiated bilateral arrangements over the issue. "Bockarie was a Sierra Leonean citizen and we are in excellent terms with that government. Arrangements will be made to take the body as soon as we get a formal request," he said. "The Sierra Leone ambassador has already identified the body. It is now up to his government."
The court has also demanded that Liberia arrest and turn over Johnny Paul Koroma, another Sierra Leonean fugitive on its wanted list who it said was commanding fighters in Lofa, northern Liberia. But Goodridge said: "We have not seen him in Liberia. If we find him, he will be arrested. But if he resists arrest like Bockarie, he could be killed."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions