U.N. extends sanctions on Liberia

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Monday to extend sanctions on Liberia for a year, saying the government is still actively supporting armed rebel groups, especially in Sierra Leone, the Associated Press reported.

The sanctions include an arms embargo, a ban on the import of all diamonds from Liberia, and a travel ban on senior officials from the government and armed forces, the AP reported.

Last month, a U.N. panel of experts appointed to assess compliance reported that the West African nation had repeatedly violated the arms embargo.

President Charles Taylor, who was elected in 1997 after being a powerful warlord in Liberia’s 1989-1996 civil war, has said he expected the sanctions to be extended. He contends the international community wants to force him from power.

The 15-member council, which includes the United States, said sanctions could be terminated immediately if it determines Liberia has complied with demands, which also include expelling rebels and freezing rebel assets, the AP reported.

The sanctions were imposed to get Liberia to stop support that allowed the Revolutionary United Front to wage a decade-long war to oust the Sierra Leone government and take over lucrative diamond fields. Tens of thousands of people were killed, while thousands of others were raped or maimed by rebels who chopped off arms and legs with impunity.

The rebels signed a peace deal in November 2000 and a U.N. disarmament program ended in January, when the war was officially declared over. Nationwide elections are scheduled on May 14, with the RUF remaking itself as a political party.

The Liberian government had urged the council to lift sanctions, saying the embargoes hurt ordinary people in Liberia, where 80 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. The Organization of African Unity backed Liberia’s call in a letter Friday to the U.N. Security Council.

But Singapore’s U.N. Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani, the current council president, said most members felt the job of achieving peace in Sierra Leone “has not been done completely,” the AP reported. The three African members of the council supported the U.N. resolution.

The resolution calls for a new panel of experts to assess Liberia’s compliance with the sanctions and report by Oct. 7.