- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Winston Tubman of Liberia, whose family is related to William Tubman, the ruler of the West African state for nearly a quarter-century before the country slipped into a time of trouble starting in 1980, has announced his candidacy in the presidential election planned for October.

The goal of the fall vote is to move beyond the interim government led by Gyude Bryant.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Tubman pledged to work for reconciliation between the country’s Americo-Liberians, descendants of freed American slaves, and the indigenous people in whose midst they settled in the 1840s and later came to dominate.

“Reconciliation is the paramount task to bring the country together in peace and prosperity,” Mr. Tubman said.

He is a product of both Liberian groups: His father is an Americo-Liberian and his mother is from the indigenous population before black freedmen from the United States arrived.

Before entering the political arena as a presidential aspirant, Mr. Tubman served the United Nations as a special envoy for Somalia, a nation in devolution from years dictatorship, Cold War politics and a flood of arms from outside.

The transition phase in Liberia became necessary when Charles Taylor, the insurgent who fought a 1989-97 war against internal and external enemies, was elected president with nearly 75 percent of the vote on July 19, 1997, then was forced into exile by a U.S.-spearheaded, West African-supported campaign.

Underlying that campaign was the fear outside Liberia that Mr. Taylor, who worked with Col. Moammar Gadhafi during the Libyan leader’s radical years, would become a destabilizing force in the region.

Regarding the intensifying effort to force Mr. Taylor out of exile in Nigeria for trial as a war criminal, Mr. Tubman — in a spirit of reconciliation and determination to avoid another civil war — said he would be inclined “not to bring Charles Taylor out of exile for trial at this time.”

Furthermore, he said, “if Mr. Taylor committed war crimes, it should be the job of Liberians, not outsiders, to try him.” Mr. Taylor is wanted for trial as a war criminal in Sierra Leone before a special tribunal created by the United Nations. He is accused of waging a war to overthrow the government of Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

During the Taylor insurgency, Liberian forces as well as those created in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea crossed borders and waged war without quarter against each other.

In another context, Mr. Tubman also alluded to another motive for putting off action against Mr. Taylor.

Asked about the state of affairs in the Bryant government, Mr. Tubman said the “country is being administered mostly by the people who served Taylor.” Left unsaid, but clearly implied, was the concern that action against the former Liberian leader could trigger new violence.

What would a Tubman presidency offer a country wracked for the past quarter-century by ethnic violence, autocratic governments and corruption? Mr. Tubman promised an open, democratic political system, friendly to investors and turning to the task of rebuilding a shattered nation.

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