U.N. sanctions against Liberia’s diamond exports and a travel ban on its leaders went into effect on Monday to punish Monrovia for fueling a civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone through a gems-for-guns trade, Reuters reported.
The U.N. Security Council imposed the ban on March 7, with a two-month delay to give Liberia time to cut ties with Sierra Leone’s notorious Revolutionary United Front rebels, accused of killing, raping and mutilating civilians over the last decade.
But on Friday, council members made no move to stop the sanctions from going into effect, despite last minute-appeals from Liberian President Charles Taylor, held personally responsible for fomenting the war by supplying the rebels with guns in exchange for Sierra Leone’s diamonds.
The decision was based on a report last week from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan who said information indicated Liberia had not yet cut ties with the rebels, closed their bank accounts and expelled their leaders as the council demanded.
The embargoes, which include an arms ban that went into force in March, stay in place until May 2002 unless the council decides to lift them earlier or votes to extend them.
In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, over the weekend, thousands of people took to the streets, most of them women, marching in near silence past the U.S. Embassy and the European Union office to protest the sanctions, Reuters reported.
On Saturday, they delivered a 13-point resolution to EU and U.S. diplomats calling for mediation to end conflict between Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Reuters reported. The diamond-rich area where the countries meet is center of a growing conflict involving government forces and rebel groups from all three countries.
The council based its action on a December report from a U.N.-appointed panel, which alleged Liberia had provided the RUF with weapons, training, logistical support, a staging ground for attacks, and a safe haven for retreat. In exchange it marketed diamonds looted from Sierra Leone.
Denying all the allegations, Taylor told Newsweek the charges against him were based on disinformation and were perhaps part of an international plot.
The United Nations has fielded its largest current peacekeeping operation of more than 12,000 troops in Sierra Leone, a former British colony. The rebels last year broke a 1999 peace agreement and captured 500 peacekeepers who were then released through Taylor’s mediation.
A cease-fire negotiated in November has generally held and U.N. officials are speaking to the rebels on a regular basis. But the government still does not have control of rebel territory, including the diamond fields.
Specifically, the embargo covers all “direct or indirect” imports of rough diamonds from Liberia, whether or not they originated in that country. The travel ban is aimed at Taylor and a coterie of officials and businessmen who trafficked with the rebels, according to a list drawn up by the council.
Liberia announced in February it had instituted its own ban on diamond imports and said the United Nations should provide monitors. But the council has ignored that request.
It also grounded all its registered airlines, which the report said were being used by gunrunning companies to ferry weapons to Sierra Leone.
Taylor’s ties to RUF leader Foday Sankoh, now in jail in Sierra Leone, go back 10 years, when they trained in Libya. Sankoh helped Taylor seize power, and they both helped Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore do the same, the panel said.
“Liberia’s President Charles Taylor is actively involved in fueling the violence in Sierra Leone and many businessmen close to his inner circle operate on an international scale,” it said. The panel’s report said the value of diamonds Liberia smuggled from Sierra Leone ranged from $25 million to as much as $125 million a year, more than enough to sustain the RUF. Liberia, the report said, was exporting far more diamonds than its own mines yielded.