Liberian conflict could engulf all West Africa in crisis, Annan warns

Liberia is at a critical crossroads between peace and conflict, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a report issued today, warning that continued support for Liberian rebels could engulf the whole of West Africa in an economic and humanitarian crisis.
"With elections approaching, Liberia finds itself at a critical crossroads," the Secretary-General says in a report to the Security Council, noting that the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group is determined to seize power by unconstitutional means. "It (Liberia) could either turn a new page towards sustainable peace and progress under enhanced democratic governance or continue to fester in conflict and poverty, with deleterious effects for its people and the subregion."

Mr. Annan says it is clear that LURD enjoys some external military support in the conflict with President Charles Taylor's government, and neither side is likely to win.

"The international community should discourage such support, whose only achievement, so far, has been the massive displacement of innocent civilians, including women, children and the elderly, the deaths of thousands of persons and the wanton destruction of infrastructure and personal property," he warns. "If decisive action is not taken to put an end to this tragedy, a generalized humanitarian and economic crisis could engulf the entire West African region."

Noting that the first step is to end the fighting, Mr. Annan says dialogue remains the only means to create an enabling environment for peaceful elections and a brighter post-electoral future for the country, whose people have suffered far too long. "In this regard, I commend the ongoing local and regional initiatives that have made it possible for the Government and LURD to start dialogue," he adds.

The Secretary-General also urges Council members to support the International Contact Group on Liberia, which met at UN Headquarters in New York today, calling it the best forum for the international community to find the quickest possible comprehensive solution to the Liberian crisis.