- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

The interim leader of Liberia made an impassioned plea yesterday for U.S. support in lifting international sanctions on timber and diamond exports, measures that prevent his war-torn nation from earning money needed to rebuild.

“Liberia was determined by the United Nations Security Council to be exporting violence to our neighbors and using its resources to oppress its own people. We have changed all that,” said Gyude Bryant, chairman of Liberia’s interim government.

“The sanctions are particularly painful now because they are punitive as well. We are also being charged surcharges [on imports]. … We are at peace. We have changed. We don’t need to be punished,” Mr. Bryant said in an interview with The Washington Times.

He made a similar plea directly to the United Nations last week, but on Monday a U.N. report was released that opposed a quick lifting of sanctions.

The report said that diamond mining had “virtually ceased,” and that there was “no evidence of widespread” timber exports.

The report acknowledged that continued sanctions hurt job creation and lead to the further deterioration of roads and other infrastructure.

But it said the sanctions were still needed to encourage reforms.

The Security Council meets tomorrow to discuss whether to extend the sanctions.

Mr. Bryant met on Monday with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios and National Security Council staff.

The State Department said Monday that it supported Liberia in its efforts to meet a December deadline for fulfilling conditions leading to the eventual lifting of sanctions.

Mr. Bryant said his government is working with the United States to establish methods of accounting and transparency, so that the people of Liberia will know that revenue is being spent on health, education and infrastructure. He said the judicial system must be rebuilt from the ground up.

Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves, was thrown into turmoil in 1980 when the government was overthrown in a military coup by Samuel Doe, marking the end of rule by the descendents of African-Americans.

The nation fell into economic chaos and then civil war when dissident followers of Charles Taylor executed Mr. Doe and ran riot in the countryside.

Fighting continued between various rebel groups until 1995, when a peace agreement led to Mr. Taylor’s election in 1997.

In 2003, surrounded by rebels, Mr. Taylor stepped down and went into exile in Nigeria.

Mr. Bryant said that the militias that ravaged the nation during the civil war are being disarmed, and that 70 percent of the nation is now under government control.

Nationwide elections are set for Oct. 15, 2005.

Mr. Bryant said that before the end of the civil war, timber accounted for 20 percent of Liberia’s national revenue and 50 percent of its foreign exchange.

He said that diamonds are not being mined industrially, but there are firms in Liberia now seeking the diamond concession.

He said geology reports indicate there may be oil off Liberia’s coast, and he made a stop in Texas to meet with oil businessmen before coming to Washington.

“We are taking away the guns, big guns, away from people,” Mr. Bryant said, listing surface-to-air missiles, rocket and grenade launchers, large stockpiles of automatic rifles and “millions of rounds of ammunition.”

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