U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Africa Bureau

U.S. Department of State
96/06/26 Testimony: William Twaddell on Liberia
Bureau of African Affairs

June 26, 1996

Madam Chairman, Members of the Committee, Good afternoon. I am pleased to report that the situation in Liberia has improved since Assistant Secretary Moose met with you in early May. The city of Monrovia has been relatively calm for one month. Some fighters of Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and of Alhaji Kromah's United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO-K) have left the city or observe the "no guns on the streets" dictum of The West African Peacekeeping Force, ECOMOG. The standoff at the Barclay Training Center has been resolved with the fighters of Roosevelt Johnson's ULIMO-J having left the center unarmed. ECOMOG is deployed throughout the city and is seizing arms caches and exerting its authority to keep the peace. A large majority of those made homeless by the fighting have returned to their homes, although many whose homes were destroyed remain in displaced persons centers, including about 4,500 persons in the Embassy's Greystone Compound. Some Liberians and others have sought ways to leave Liberia including on boats. There is still augmented security at the Embassy, but evacuation flights have virtually ceased with the resumption of commercial air traffic into Monrovia on June 17.

Current Situation

The United States Government is energetically pursuing the opportunity provided by relative restoration of calm in Monrovia to push for resumption of the peace process. Our strategy remains consistent with what we described to you in May. Its core elements include: increased support for ECOMOG; enhanced diplomatic efforts aimed at encouraging maintenance of the cease-fire and restoration of the Abuja peace process; and stepped-up pressure on the faction leaders to cooperate. As Secretary Moose said in May, we believe the Abuja Accord, which provides for an interim government, disarmament, demobilization, and the holding of free and fair elections, continues to be the best framework for a permanent solution. ECOMOG remains key to achieving this goal. The early August Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will be critical when the West African leaders measure the progress toward reestablishing the peace process and take decisions regarding their continued involvement.

At this moment, Special Presidential Envoy for Liberia, Ambassador Dane Smith is in the region. Last week he consulted with European Governments, to explore how we, in conjunction with our allies, can best work with the countries of the region to strengthen ECOMOG. Ambassador Smith is also exploring ways we can work with others to keep pressure on the faction leaders to participate in good faith in the peace process. We are convinced that the faction leaders must be made to see their interests best served by the reestablishment of a functioning national government and the disarmament and demobilization of fighters.

The last point, keeping pressure on faction leaders, is closely related to the timely topic we are here to discuss today. The ability of the faction leaders to find collaborators in the international community to whom to sell illicit Liberian commodities to provide the wherewithall to arms merchants to procure and deliver weapons and munitions, is at the core of the tragedy of this seemingly endless conflict. Breaking this vicious cycle is critical to ending the war.

The Arms Trade

A steady flow of arms and munitions to Liberia's warring factions has kept the Liberian conflict going for over six years. Our information about this trade is sketchy and full of gaps but does lead to some conclusions. Almost all weapons currently reaching Liberia transit countries in the region rather than arrive directly in Liberia. Which country, depends on which faction is the intended recipient. Arms reaching Charles Taylor's NPFL most likely transit Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire. Those destined for Alhaji Kromah's ULIMO-K are likely to pass through Guinea. Some of the Krahn factions have in the past received weapons from Nigeria via Nigerian troops in ECOMOG.

Illicit cross-border trade in Africa is not uncommon because of porous borders. The extent to which arms transfers to Liberia reflect conscious national government policy of the countries is difficult to gauge. Clearly, corrupt local or national government officials and ethnic sympathies make it possible for such transfers to continue even in the face of official policy expressly forbidding them.

Most of the arms and ammunition reaching Liberian factions are purchased on the gray market through private dealers in various countries, primarily in Europe. The NPFL, ULIMO-K, and the LPC have been the primary recipients of illicit arms shipments.

The international community has long discussed the critical importance of ending arms flows to the Liberian factions. A 1992 ECOWAS declaration called on all nations to stop arms transfers and restrict commercial activity with Liberia. Later that year, the United Nations Security Council imposed an international arms embargo on Liberia. When the United Nations agreed to send an observer mission to Liberia (UNOMIL), the mandate included responsibility for monitoring cross- border trade in an attempt to end illicit arms transfers. UNOMIL troops were deployed on the borders until fighting in September/October 1994 forced them to withdraw to Monrovia.

Revenue Sources

The steady supply of arms -- none of the factions keeps large inventories -- depends on a steady supply of money. The primary source of funds appears to be from the sale of commodities from Liberia's trove of natural resources, principally diamonds, timber, gold, and rubber. At present, Taylor and his current ally Alhaji Kromah control the most of the areas where these commodities are found, namely across the northern tier of the country and along the border with Cote d'Ivoire. Kromah's rival, ULIMO-J had access to some diamond areas before being pushed out of Tubmanburg. A Florida political science professor, William Reno, wrote recently: "The war has been as much a battle over commerce inside and beyond Liberia's borders as it has been a war for territory or control of the government."

Publicly available trade statistics suggest the magnitude of revenue available to Liberia's faction leaders from commodity sales. From 1990 to 1994 Liberia's diamond exports averaged $300 million annually. During the same period, timber exports averaged $53 million annually, rubber exports, $27 million annually, and gold exports close to one million dollars annually. Iron ore exported from 1990 to 1993 (none was taken out in 1994) averaged almost $41 million annually. Even taking into account the inevitable smuggling of some of these commodities, especially diamonds, discounts for trafficking in illegal products, and bribes for officials in countries these products transit, the sums of money available to faction leaders are still substantial. Charles Taylor who has long controlled the most lucrative areas of the countryside, could have upwards of $75 million a year passing through his hands.

Just as most of the arms entering Liberia transit neighboring countries, so the commodities whose profits pay for the arms transit neighboring countries en route to their final destinations. To a large extent, those destinations are in Europe. Trade records indicate that most Liberian-origin diamonds probably find their way to Belgium. Buyers in France and Malaysia are the primary customers for Liberian timber.

Another source of funds, notably since the Abuja Accord of August 1995 brought the faction leaders into the ruling Council of State, has been revenues from Liberia's maritime registry, which constitute ninety percent of the Liberian Government's legitimate revenue. Following disbursement to the Government last fall of ship registry revenue, there was a notable rise in foreign travel by Liberian faction leaders, especially those on the Council of State and their supporters, who travel with large entourages. Ship registry revenues are about $16-20 million annually.

Business Deals and the United States

Although the United States is not believed to be a major source of arms for Liberia or a principal recipient of illicit Liberian commodities, it is fertile ground for activities that have contributed significantly to the coffers of Liberian faction leaders and have certainly helped prolong the war. Most of the Liberian faction leaders and their associates have spent many years in the U.S., often as students, temporary workers, even as permanent residents. They own property, own or operate businesses, and, more importantly, they know how the U.S. system works and how to make it work for them.

Their activities fall into five major categories: direct fundraising, investments, U.S. bank accounts, scams, and the sale of raw materials. The following examples are indicative:

-- New Horizons, a group based in Providence, R.I., aggressively solicited funds for several years through a sophisticated newsletter and direct appeals via radio talk shows and personal appearances at Liberian-American events. In 1994, New Horizons raised over $2 million, some of which was used to finance the coup attempt of former Doe Lt. Gen. Julue in September 1994. The group, which used to confine its activities to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, conducted major fundraising efforts in 1995 in California and Texas.

-- Charles Taylor either owns or controls a tree service company in Maryland, a legitimate business which reportedly won a contract to provide all landscaping services to the City of Baltimore, thereby generating $2 million monthly to the business.

-- When negotiations seemed headed toward peace about a year ago, numerous wealthy businessmen in the U.S. reported contacts from certain Liberians and unsuspecting U.S. church leaders asking them to contribute to a dubious fund to rebuild Liberia. Monies contributed later disappeared. Another scam offered commodity concessions or monopoly business opportunities in gold or diamonds in post-war Liberia at extremely favorable terms. We do not know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars may have been collected in these appeals.


All of this adds up to a grim picture: warlords wantonly exploiting their country's resources to keep themselves and their rag- tag forces in weapons with virtual international impunity and, in some cases, complicity.

The Administration is keenly interested in putting an end to the United States serving as a source of weapons or funds for faction leaders. However, curbing the generation and expatriation of funds, even when it is highly probable that they are fueling the Liberian war, is difficult as long as those involved comply with U.S. law. Fund- raising activities are not restricted and funds are easily spririted out of the country. Evidence of arms purchases in the United States, money- laundering, transportation of stolen merchandise, non-payment of taxes, or non-compliance with asset reporting requirements are easier to combat. But arms are not generally being purchased in the United States and most of the lucrative commodity trade is directed elsewhere. Even were commodities entering the United States, consider how difficult it would be to prove Liberian origin of timber, for example.

Nevertheless, we continue to seek ways to constrict these activities. As Ambassador Moose announced in May, the United States reimposed visa restrictions on the faction leaders and their close associates for impeding the peace process by renewing fighting in Monrovia in April. Discussions with European Union members have resulted in many of them agreeing to follow suit. We are also exploring with our European allies the extent to which other measures might be imposed collectively on Liberian faction leaders if they fail to cooperate with restoration of the peace process.

The U.S. Government firmly believes it is in the interest of all the people of Liberia to end exploitation of Liberia's riches for illicit benefit of a few to the detriment of the majority. With its rich natural resource base, Liberia has the potential to be a wealthy country. Not only is the plunder of Liberia's resources contributing to a continuation of warfare, it is depriving the people of Liberia and future generations of their rightful inheritance. We believe it is incumbent on all countries to ensure that the UN Arms Embargo against Liberia is not violated within its territory. We have called on its neighboring countries to adhere strictly to the UN arms embargo and several UN Security Council resolutions on Liberia have urged the international community as a whole to do the same. We have and will continue to urge countries aware of violations to bring them to the attention of the UN Sanctions committee; only then is the UN obliged to investigate allegations. Both aspects should be tackled equally aggressively: the illicit commodity sales that provide the warlords' wherewithal, and the mechanisms of arms purchase and delivery. States or individuals engaging in or turning a blind eye to either are perpetuating Liberia's tragic war and should have to answer for their acts before national and international laws.

Thank you.


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