- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Liberia’s main rebel group has grown from a shadowy force to a movement controlling half the country.

Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), which has been fighting to oust President Charles Taylor since 1999, was recently joined by another rebel group that emerged in the southeast of the country.

Although the LURD denies any links with the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, the Liberian government says they are one and the same — a view shared by many. According to U.N. authorities, the insurgents control between 40 percent and 60 percent of Liberia’s territory.

For the LURD, Mr. Taylor, a former warlord who played a leading part in a previous seven-year civil war, encapsulates all that is wrong with this West African country.

“Taylor hasn’t fulfilled his promises to the Liberians from the [1997] elections,” LURD leader Sekou Damate Conneh, 42, told AFP in an interview last year.

“The only means for Liberians to recover their dignity and peace is to chase out Taylor, and for that there is no other ways and means than force,” he said.

Mr. Taylor is under U.N. sanctions in connection with his role in a brutal 10-year rebel war in neighboring Sierra Leone and trafficking in the so-called “conflict diamonds” mined by the Sierra Leone rebels.

He also has been accused by the international community and human rights bodies of sweeping rights abuses, though his accusers point out that the LURD is guilty of the same excesses.

The LURD claims to have 7,000 soldiers in arms and appears structured and disciplined, but lacks a blueprint for a post-Taylor Liberia.

“The Liberians will have to choose their own rulers and institutions” when Mr. Taylor falls, Mr. Conneh said.

The rebels adopted a constitution May 25, 2001, whose Article 8 defines the “goals and objectives” as the promotion of “peace, reconciliation and national consciousness among Liberians; to ensure respect for human rights, justice, freedom and equality regardless of tribes, religion or social status.”

The LURD also commits itself in the constitution to “promote good governance and democracy, to promote international and constitutional laws,” and “to promote and maintain regional and international peace and security.”

The group’s vice president is Chayee Doe, younger brother of slain Liberian dictator Samuel Doe, who was tortured to death in the last civil war.

[Samuel Doe was killed by warlord Prince Yormie Johnson, a rival of Mr. Taylor. In 1980, Samuel Doe, a 28-year-old army sergeant of native descent, overthrew and killed President William R. Tolbert, a descendant of freed American slaves who had settled Liberia from the 1820s.]

The LURD and Movement for Democracy in Liberia rebels say they are not tainted by trafficking in the conflict diamonds or in illegal logging — unlike Mr. Taylor’s regime, which is widely accused of involvement in both.

The rebels make do with little. They don’t have uniforms and are equipped with light arms like AK-47 assault rifles.

The LURD has taken care to separate military affairs and politics. The group’s chief of military operations, Prince B. Seo, does not take part in National Executive Committee debates and has to regularly report to LURD Secretary-General Joe T. Gbalah.

Its constitution also prevents any former chief of a rebel faction or a member of a political party from becoming an executive committee member.

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