Guinea + 2 more

Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone seek to revive bloc

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By Saliou Samb

CONAKRY, April 30 (Reuters) - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone sought to put a decade of civil wars behind them on Monday by reviving a regional bloc which has been stymied by frontier disputes between the West African neighbours.

At a meeting in the Guinean capital Conakry, Guinean Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate urged the heads of state of the Mano River Union (MRU) to resolve problems dividing the three-nation group. It takes its name from a river which starts in Guinea and forms the boundary between Liberia and Sierra Leone,

"The Mano River Union, which has just undergone a turbulent period of more than a decade, is today embarked on a process of revitalisation which will benefit the development of our countries," Kouyate said in his opening speech.

High on the list of problems facing the three nations is a territorial dispute between Guinea and Sierra Leone over a patch of land alongside the Makona river, occupied by Guinean troops during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war and claimed by both countries.

"None of our countries can achieve its development aims unless all of us work together," Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said in a speech before going into a closed-door meeting with her Guinean counterpart Lansana Conte and Sierra Leone's Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo also attended as an observer.

Founded in 1973 to encourage economic cooperation between Liberia and Sierra Leone, the Mano River Union was expanded seven years later with the addition of Guinea. It was abandoned due to the civil wars in Liberia, from 1989 to 2003, and Sierra Leone, which pitted the nations against one another.

Liberia's then-president Charles Taylor accused Guinean leader Conte of backing the LURD rebels in his country, while Kabbah said Taylor was funding and arming Sierra Leone's RUF insurgents, notorious for their child soldiers who hacked limbs off civilians.

The Mano River Union was reactivated at a summit in 2004 but has since been undermined by ongoing border disputes.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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