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Liberian diamonds, timber and rubber still exploited by ex-combatants

1st June 2006

United Nations sanctions on Liberian diamonds and timber should not be lifted until the government has gained full control over these resources, Global Witness said in a new report released today.

“Under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the new Liberian government has made significant progress towards reforming the natural resources sector and tackling corruption”, said Natalie Ashworth, Global Witness Campaigner. “However, much more needs to be done before Liberia can be said to have met the criteria for lifting sanctions.”

Global Witness’s new report, entitled “Cautiously Optimistic: the case for maintaining sanctions in Liberia”, demonstrates how Liberia has not yet complied with the UN criteria for lifting sanctions, due for review in June 2006. It stresses that maintaining sanctions should not be seen as a punitive measure but as a way of supporting the new government’s reforms.

“In the past revenue from both the diamond and timber industries have been used to fuel conflict which consumed Liberia and the region,” said Natalie Ashworth. “It is essential that long-term measures are put in place to prevent this from happening again and to ensure that Liberia’s natural resources are used for the country’s development and reconstruction.”

The Global Witness report warns against sacrificing the UN benchmarks for short-term political gains or gestures. “In the long-term, peace and stability in Liberia will be the first casualties,” said Natalie Ashworth

Large areas of resource rich territory remain under the control of ex combatants, who are exploiting rubber and diamonds, generating significant illicit revenues. Currently the Liberian government and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Liberia (UNMIL) have not developed a strategy to deal with this problem.

Global Witness investigations in Liberia in March-April 2006 confirmed that ex-combatants were in control of two large rubber plantations – Guthrie and Sinoe. The ex-combatants organise the exploitation of rubber, directed by their former rebel command structures. Some of them told Global Witness that they had not been through the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration process organised by UNMIL. The rubber is generating significant unallocated and unrestricted revenue for these ex-combatants.

“President Sirleaf has recognised the risk presented by the ex-combatants’ presence in the rubber plantations, but the new government and security forces do not have the means to restore control without assistance,” said Natalie Ashworth. “UNMIL must urgently assist the government to remove the ex-combatants as part of a broader strategy which provides them with alternative sources of employment.”

For further information, please contact:

Natalie Ashworth: in the UK +44 207 561 6369 + 44 7968160377
Patrick Alley in the US + 1 7921788897

Notes

The full Global Witness report, “Cautiously Optimistic: the case for maintaining sanctions in Liberia”, can be found at

http://www.globalwitness.org/reports/index.php?section=liberia

Global Witness is an investigative non-governmental organisation that focuses on the links between natural resource exploitation and conflict and was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. For more information on Liberia, see other Global Witness reports and briefing documents, available at www.globalwitness.org