Liberian President Charles Taylor called on Monday for the formation of a West African force to keep the peace in the subregion.
“A true West African force would have all the characteristics of the 16 countries in the West African subregion,” Taylor said at a news conference in Abidjan, one of four capitals he visited during a tour of West Africa on 4-7 June.
Taylor, who also went to Lome, Abuja and Ouagadougou, said all members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should contribute to the command structure of such a force.
While ECOWAS does, in fact, have a force stationed in Sierra Leone and Liberia - the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) - the bulk of its troops come from Nigeria.
It was ECOMOG’s presence in Monrovia that prevented the armed faction Taylor then led from overrunning Monrovia in 1990, seven years before he won a presidential election.
In Sierra Leone, ECOMOG has been backing the democratically elected government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, while Liberia’s government has been accused of supporting the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels led by Foday Sankoh.
Taylor has consistently denied helping the RUF and he repeated that denial at Monday’s news conference although he admitted that he was Sankoh’s friend. It was that friendship, he said, along with the suffering of Sierra Leone’s people, that led him to go last week to Togo, where Sierra Leone’s government and rebels have been holding talks since late May. “We believe that if that friendship that existed several years ago still exists, then we can play a role in ending the war,” he said.
Taylor said that while ECOMOG had done an “excellent job” in Liberia, bringing peace to that nation, “we were not able to set up the necessary protocols ... in defining what a West African force should really look like, what its composition would be and how it would react under circumstances of conflict”.
He said the idea of a West African force came not only from him but also from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, with whom he discussed the issue when he visited Abuja at the weekend.
Taylor said he also discussed with Obasanjo the destruction of weapons collected from Liberia’s former factions. “We decided that the arms would be destroyed on the 26th of July of this year under the auspices of ECOWAS, the United Nations, the OAU and the government of Liberia,” he said.
Taylor also said it was important for the ceasefire in Sierra Leone to hold and he called for an end to arms deliveries to both sides. “I want to use this occasion to discourage the British from sending any new arms to Sierra Leone,” he said.
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