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This is no Time to Punish Liberia in Exchange for Charles Taylor!

By: Henrique Caine
Nov. 18, 2005

Let's think about this for a minute. Nigeria's Obasanjo has said that he will not surrender Mr. Taylor, except to a newly elected Liberian government if that Government makes the request. Mrs. Sirleaf has indicated that she has absolutely no intention of making that request. In the words of one of her aides, "there are more pressing problems to confront…." To make things even more interesting, UN Envoy to Liberia, Alan Doss is under orders from the UN Security Council to arrest Mr. Taylor should he set foot in Liberia. Given these set of circumstances, we can assume that Mr. Taylor is not at all demanding to come home. Would you if you were he? So it is save to bet that for now, he's not coming anywhere.

In light of all this, the European Union (EU) recent position statement is disappointing. It was disheartening to read the EU post election statement, which stated that unless the incoming government works toward turning over Charles Taylor, the EU could withhold redevelopment aid to Liberia. That is no way to nurture and foster a fragile democracy. Now that Liberians appeared to have finally gotten it right by electing a leader capable of moving the country forward, the Liberian people and its incoming government should not be threatened or harassed over matters pertaining to the former Liberian President. Simply put, that would be unjust. The arrangement under which Mr. Taylor was removed from Liberia was unique and received the virtual "blessing" of all parties involved, including the international community of which the EU is a part. In August 2003 all parties knew full well that President Taylor's departure was the only way forward and the only means of achieving some semblance of peace in Liberia. This is no time to punish Liberia over Mr. Taylor.

Liberians are eternally grateful to the international community for intervening in the Liberia crisis and helping us get out of the quagmire we created for ourselves. However, this sincere gratitude should not be mistaken for anything other than gratitude. What we need at this critical juncture are international partners that are committed to assisting Liberia rebuild and sustain peace. Issuing conditional statements and linking development aid to the arrest of Mr. Taylor is counterproductive and is a setback to the milestones we have achieved. We can all agree that impunity has to end in Liberia, despite the fact that there are a number of other well know un-indicted "war lords" still freely roaming Liberia. Going forward, if we do things the way we ought to do them, the new democratic Liberia should have no place for impunity.

Notwithstanding, the Charles Taylor issue at this juncture is not merely a Liberian problem, but an international issue. Just as the UN backed special court in Freetown indicted him and issued an international arrest warrant, and the UN Security Council has instructed that he be arrested if he comes to Liberia, then that same entity should also be able to ascertain the best means of capturing him and taking Mr. Taylor to a UN court of justice. But this should not be at the expense of the fragile peace, reconciliation and democracy building that Liberia is embarking upon. The UN and the international community needs to explore (diplomatic or otherwise) options of executing the arrest warrant for Mr. Taylor and not attempt to drag the newly elected government of Liberia into an international situation for which the new government clearly will have no complete control over-at least not without dire consequences to the well sought after peace and stability in Liberia.

Mr. Caine can be reached at cainehenrique@hotmail.com