- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

From combined dispatches

Human Rights Watch is urging the United States to insist that Guinea stop backing Liberian rebels before Washington starts new military assistance to the government in Conakry, Reuters news agency reports.

The New-York based group says there is clear evidence that Guinea is helping Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) a rebel group accused of summary executions and rapes.

The 2-year-old war in northern Liberia is the latest conflict in a regional cycle of bloodshed. Liberia itself is under U.N. sanctions, including an arms embargo, for supporting insurgents in Sierra Leone and Guinea.

"All U.S. military assistance to Guinea, scheduled to begin in May 2002, should be conditioned on an end to Guinean support for the LURD rebels," Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

It said the assistance involves $3 million in training and nonlethal aid to help ensure security along Guinea's border with Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Ties between Liberia and the United States stretch back to the former's founding by freed American slaves in the 1820s, but no love is lost between Washington and the government in Monrovia of elected President Charles Taylor.

Human Rights Watch said abuses by Mr. Taylor's forces are even more widespread than those of LURD, involving summary executions, rapes, torture, looting, forced conscription and arson.

It urged the U.N. Security Council to keep sanctions on Liberia when it reviews them this month and said the United Nations should also investigate Guinea's role in the regional crisis and consider an extension of the arms embargo.

Conakry denies supporting LURD, although Guinean security sources say the government has gone so far as sending soldiers into Liberia to support the rebels.

Meanwhile, about 8,000 Liberians who fled fighting between LURD and government forces in northern Liberia have been trapped in the war zone. Alfred Brima, regional director of the Liberia Refugee Agency, told reporters in Monrovia on Tuesday that "state security personnel were preventing them from traveling to safer areas like the displaced camps in Gbarnga."

The refugee agency told Agence France-Presse last week that sounds of shooting near the St. Paul River had sparked a mass exodus of residents toward Gbarnga.

Early this year, LURD fought its way south to nearly Monrovia, prompting President Taylor to declare a state of emergency on Feb. 8.

Mr. Taylor ordered a suspension of all political activity in his troubled West African country on Monday, the same day opposition leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf came back to Liberia.

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, who came in second to Mr. Taylor in the 1997 presidential race and is leader of the opposition Unity Party, returned from Ivory Coast to prepare for Liberia's October 2003 elections.

On Friday, the government banned all unauthorized public meetings.

"These are not normal times for the country," Mr. Taylor told reporters on Monday. "We are not shutting down political parties. We want to make sure that no political party in the country is threatened in any way or no member of a party is hurt at a rally."

Mr. Taylor was a key figure in Liberia's 1989-1996 civil war. Little is known about LURD, but the group is said to include fighters who battled him then.

In a curious echo of the past, reports in Nigeria this week said that Prince Yormie Johnson, the former warlord who tortured to death Liberian President Samuel Doe in 1990, has been ordained a pastor in an evangelical Christian cult.

Doe, an ethnic Krahn, was the first native to rule the country since it became a republic in 1847. A former army sergeant, he led a group of enlisted men who massacred President William Tolbert and more than two dozen of his officials after a 1980 coup.

The Vanguard daily in Lagos, Nigeria, said Johnson who murdered Doe in a brutal 1990 torture session that was videotaped and widely shown was ordained Sunday as an evangelist of the Christ Deliverance Ministries. It published a photo of him kneeling before "Prophet" Ekong Ituen.

Johnson, former leader of the defunct Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, has been in exile in Lagos for a decade as a guest of Nigeria's government.

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