African ministers seek a delay on U.N. sanctions

West African ministers asked the United Nations Security Council Monday to delay imposing new sanctions against Liberia for two months to give the country more time to break its ties with Sierra Leone’s rebels and stop selling them guns for diamonds, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Britain and the United States balked at the request, saying Liberia had already been given enough chances and the council should consider their resolution to impose swift sanctions, U.N. officials told the AP.

Liberia is already under a U.N. weapons embargo stemming from its 1989-96 civil war. The proposed U.S.-British resolution calls for an expanded arms embargo, a ban on Liberian diamond and timber exports, a takeoff and landing ban on Liberian-registered aircraft, and a travel ban on senior Liberian government and military officials.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said there is evidence, which he did not disclose, that Liberia was still engaged in trafficking arms to Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front rebels and helping the rebel force smuggle diamonds out of the country as recently as last month, the AP reported.

The executive secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said the regional group-which includes Liberia-didn’t oppose sanctions, but preferred a two-month delay.

Liberia’s Foreign Minister Monie Captan said his government has made ”tangible and concrete commitments” to ECOWAS, most importantly on disengaging from Sierra Leone’s rebels and regulating the diamond trade, the AP reported. The United Nations has banned diamond exports from the rebels in an attempt to strangle their source of funding for the war.

Last month, Captan pledged to cooperate with the United Nations and called for the world body to monitor Liberia’s airports and borders and oversee its diamond exports. He called Monday for a joint Liberian-U.N. verification system to confirm Liberia’s compliance with U.N. demands.

Greenstock gave no time frame for a council decision.

In December, a U.N.-appointed panel said the gems-for-guns transactions could not have occurred without the permission and the involvement of Liberian government officials at the highest level. President Charles Taylor, the report alleged, was ”actively involved” in fueling the violence next door – an allegation the Liberian government vehemently denies.

The ECOWAS ministers also reported to the council on plans to deploy a 1,676-member military force along the volatile frontiers of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where fighting has displaced tens of thousands of civilians since September.