With regard to the current situation in West Africa and the UN Security Council's upcoming mission to the region, Global Witness advises the Security Council to:
· Enact sanctions on Liberian timber products as planned.
· Assess the viability of a Liberian 'wood-for-food' programme.
· Support the Liberian peace process, and consider authorising an international stabilisation force.
· Encourage the international community to increase humanitarian aid to Liberia.
In addition, below is a situational update focusing on the following Liberian logging industry-related developments:
· Liberian logging company militias are actively engaged in the fighting, allegedly on both sides.
· Liberian logging companies are still processing and exporting timber products.
· Logging ships continue to export Liberian timber, despite ongoing conflict and threat of hijack.
· Liberian rebel forces now control 75% of Liberian forest area.
Enact sanctions on Liberian timber products as planned. The UN Security Council (UNSC) should enter into force on 7 July 2003 the embargo on Liberian timber products, as called for in UNSC Resolution 1478 (1). The Liberian logging industry already provides the Liberian government and Liberian government-backed rebel groups in western Cote d' Ivoire, MPIGO (2) and MJP (3), financial and logistical access to international markets for weapons and mercenaries (4). The Liberian government has admitted using timber funds to purchase weapons, in contravention of a UN arms embargo (5). Allowing timber exports to continue, given that Liberian rebel groups Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) now control most logging concessions and a major logging port, would seriously worsen the conflict.
Assess the viability of a Liberian 'wood-for-food' programme. Rebel groups LURD and MODEL combined control more than 60% of total Liberian territory, which includes 75% of Liberia's forest regions and logging concessions. MODEL also controls the strategic logging port at Harper. At present, allowing any logging company activities would encourage the trade in conflict timber, as revenue derived from the industry would enrich both rebel groups and the government. Logging would also maintain the active involvement of companies with histories of facilitating arms imports, committing human rights abuses and supporting rebel forces, such as the Oriental Timber Company (OTC) and Maryland Wood Processing Industries (MWPI) (6). As such, a 'wood-for-food' programme is not a viable option at this time.
Support the Liberian peace process and consider authorising an international stabilisation force. The UNSC should continue to support the peace process in Liberia, in particular the newest peace agreement signed by the Liberian government, LURD and MODEL on Tuesday, 17 June 2003, in Accra, Ghana (7), and consider either deploying a UN peacekeeping force or authorising an alternative international stabilisation force. Any deployment to Liberia must not diminish the UN peacekeeping presence in Sierra Leone, however. Sierra Leone has recently experienced an influx of refugees and ex-combatants from Liberia, including the surrender of 600 members of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) on 15 June 2003 (8), and the country faces increased security threats due to the Special Court's indictment of Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes (9).
Encourage the international community to increase humanitarian aid to Liberia. Over 100,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from camps surrounding Monrovia have entered the city in recent weeks, seeking safety from advancing rebel forces (10). According to WHO representatives, health conditions in Monrovia are on the brink of disaster (11). The Security Council should use its mission to the region to highlight the serious under-funding of the UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Liberia for 2003 (12), and encourage donors to prioritise Liberia as a recipient of humanitarian aid.
Liberian logging company militias are actively engaged in fighting, allegedly on both sides. As reported by Global Witness (13), logging company militias commit grave human rights abuses, act with virtual impunity and are used as a surrogate security force by the Liberian government. In early April 2003, the Inland Logging Company (ILC), under the command of Oscar Cooper, began recruiting ex-combatants from Nimba, Grand Gedeh and Sinoe counties to strengthen the ILC militia. By the end of April, almost all of the AFL and Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) personnel deployed in Greenville had retreated to Buchanan, leaving only the ILC militia to defend Greenville, which was eventually overtaken by MODEL (14). At the same time, the Liberian government accused unnamed logging companies operating in the Greenville area of collaborating with the rebels (15). Recent reports state that the Liberian government retook Greenville on 18 June 2003 (16).
Liberian logging companies are still processing and exporting timber products. Despite suggestions that logging operations ceased early in 2003, logging companies OTC, MWPI, Togba Timber Company (TTCO) and others continued logging up through the recent LURD and MODEL advances. MWPI and TTCO continued to harvest logs until River Gee county came under attack by MODEL forces in May 2003. OTC's last known export shipment of logs was on 3 May 2003, but the company is still moving logs from various bush camps in Grand Bassa and other areas still accessible in Rivercess and Sinoe County to its plywood factory in Buchanan, which continues to operate (17).
Logging ships continue to export Liberian timber, despite ongoing conflict and threat of hijack. On 17 May 2003, as MODEL forces were taking over the city of Harper, the MV Benty was anchored off Harper Port waiting to load a cargo of MPWI and TTCO logs (18). The MV Sandra was also anchored off Harper port, awaiting instructions to repatriate Ghanaian refugees from Harper (19). Both vessels were hijacked at gunpoint by pro-government forces and forced to carry fighters, civilians and looted goods to Monrovia and Buchanan, respectively (20). In late April 2003, as MODEL fighters took control of Greenville city centre, logging ships were waiting to dock at Greenville port, less than two kilometres away. The ships narrowly escaped being hijacked by MODEL fighters, who tried to board using local fishing canoes (21).
Liberian rebel forces now control 75% of Liberian forest area. Currently, LURD and MODEL combined control more than 60% of the country, which accounts for 75% of forest cover and logging concessions (22). MODEL controls the timber-rich forests of River Gee, Grand Gedeh and parts of Sinoe Counties, Sapo National Park and its proposed extension areas, and the proposed Grebo National Park. Moreover, MODEL maintains control of the important logging port at Harper. LURD, in addition to its control of Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and parts of Bong and Nimba counties, also occupies Lofa and Gbarpolu counties, which are prime logging areas.
Notes for the Editor:
(1) UN Security Council Resolution 1478 (S/2003/1478), operative clause 17.
(2) Popular Movement of the Ivorian Great West.
(3) Movement for Justice and Peace.
(4) 'The Usual Suspects: Liberia's weapons and mercenaries in Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone', Global Witness, March 2003'; 'Logging Off: How the Liberian Timber Industry Fuels Liberia's Humanitarian Disaster and Threatens Sierra Leone', Global Witness, September 2002; and 'Taylor-made: the pivotal role of Liberia's forests and flag of convenience in regional conflict', Global Witness, September 2001.
(5) 'Liberia denies Ivorian rebel links', BBC News, 3 April 2003.
(6) 'The Usual Suspects', March 2003; 'Logging Off', September 2002; 'Taylor-made', September 2001.
(7) 'Liberian foes sign ceasefire', BBC News, 17 June 2003.
(8) Elongima Masuba, 'AAGM'; Liberian soldiers surrender to Sierra Lone Armed Forces', The Standard Times (Freetown), 16 June 2003.
(9) 'Hyde, Lantos urge Powell to release funds for Sierra Leone Court facing Security Threats', U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations, 13 June 2003.
(10) 'Troops to leave Liberia's streets', CNN online, 12 June 2003.
(11) 'Health conditions in Monrovia on brink of disaster'; WHO', Agence France Presse, 13 June 2003.
(12) 'Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Liberia 2003', UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) as found on Reliefweb, 19 November 2002; S/2002/1305.
(13) 'The Usual Suspects', March 2003; 'Logging Off', September 2002; 'Taylor-made', September 2001.
(14) Global Witness research and investigations, 2003.
(15) 'Weekly News Update, 27 April - 2 May 2003', UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) as found on WHO-Africa website, 3 May 2003.
(16) Global Witness research and investigations, 2003.
(19) 'Two ships seized in Harper to evacuate 3,500', UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), 21 May 2003.
(21) Global Witness research and investigations, 2003.
For any questions, please contact Alice Blondel, Lead Campaigner - Liberia, at +44 (0)207-272-6731.
Press Release / June 20, 2003