- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

PRETORIA, South Africa Libya remains a source of instability in West Africa, where 10 years of civil wars have killed or driven from their homes hundreds of thousands of people, a senior U.S. official said yesterday.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell discussed the involvement of Libya in the civil wars affecting Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea during talks with Mali President Alpha Konare on Wednesday, the first day of Mr. Powell´s trip through four African countries.

"President Konare recognized that Libya is involved in a lot of problems but thinks Gadhafi has the potential to change," said the U.S. official, who was traveling on Mr. Powell´s plane.

"Secretary Powell said he has not seen evidence of any change," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Powell and Mali officials also voiced support for sanctions on Liberia, whose leader, Charles Taylor, has been accused by West African nations of fueling the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Taylor received weapons from Libya during his struggle in the 1990s to seize power in the former U.S. colony of Liberia, said Western diplomats interviewed in neighboring Burkina Faso at the time.

Libya also has been accused of backing rebels in Senegal and of being behind the military coup that overthrew the government in Gambia in 1994, say West African diplomats.

Libya has long harbored anti-Western terrorists and sought to rally Third World nations against the West.

But it proved powerless to respond when President Reagan bombed Tripoli in 1986 in a reprisal for a terror attack in Europe.

Libya was unable for years to throw off international sanctions imposed over the bombing of a Pan Am plane over Scotland in 1988 and a French passenger aircraft over the Sahara.

Mr. Konare and Mr. Powell "had brief discussions of Libyan actions in West Africa and the role taken to destabilize a number of places," a State Department official, also aboard Mr. Powell´s aircraft, said yesterday.

"The secretary said he needed to see more change" in the behavior of Col. Gadhafi.

The cornerstone of Libya´s meddling in West Africa has been Mr. Taylor, say Western and West African diplomatic sources.

Mr. Taylor has been accused of supporting the Sierra Leone guerilla movement known as Revolutionary United Front (RUF), known for severing the arms and legs of thousands of civilians, including children.

Despite a U.N. peacekeeping mission approaching 17,000 strong in Sierra Leone, the RUF rebels continue to export diamonds through Liberia and to sow violence in large swaths of Sierra Leone under their control.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians who fled the Sierra Leone fighting are in Guinea.

Liberia, for its part, accuses Guinea of providing "sanctuary" for Liberian rebels of the United Liberation Movement, led by Alhadj Kromah, a sworn opponent of Mr. Taylor.

The members of the Economic Community of West African States, whose current president is the Malian leader, Mr. Konare, have put in place this year a series of sanctions aimed at curbing Liberia´s destabilization of Sierra Leone.

The sanctions include an embargo on weapons and diamond sales as well as a ban on visas for Liberian leaders and their family members.

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