Enemies of Liberian leader unite to get Taylor out of power

Thursday, May 16, 2002

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Charles Taylor helped pile up a lot of bodies -- a quarter-million, by rough count -- and racked up a lot of enemies over a decade-plus of fueling conflicts at home in Liberia and among its neighbors.

The dead are buried, but the enemies have united, and now they have one common goal: Getting rid of Taylor.

"If he doesn't leave, we'll force him to leave," a rebel spokesman, William Hanson, declared from the bush in northern Liberia this week.

"Our desire is not to take power. Our desire is for him to leave, so that the people of Liberia can decide for themselves," said Hanson of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy -- a group reportedly backed by Guinea.

As he spoke, militias allied in enmity to Taylor appeared to be putting pressure on West Africa's reigning warlord -- now Liberia's president -- as never before.

Government and rebel forces alike reported the rebels pushing within a few minutes' drive of Liberia's capital this week. Mortar and artillery boomed within earshot of Monrovia, terrifying residents of a seaside city still in ruins from a 1989-96 civil war.

Opponents in at least three old conflicts spurred by Taylor -- the Liberian civil war, war in neighboring Sierra Leone and an insurrection in neighboring Guinea -- are believed arrayed against him in this new one.

Boston-educated leader

Taylor, 54 and a Boston-educated descendant of the freed American slaves who founded Liberia, launched that first war with a failed coup attempt in 1989 after training -- with other key figures in West Africa's current political scene -- in the guerrilla camps of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

When the chaos settled seven years later, 200,000 Liberians had died.

Taylor was elected president the following year, in 1997.

Civil-war opponents' allies in the new war include the Kamajors, fierce fighters from Sierra Leone steeped in the belief in invisibility spells and bulletproofing lotions.

Taylor supported Sierra Leone's rebel Revolutionary United Front when they launched their terror campaign from Liberia in 1991, killing tens of thousands over the next decade.

The United Nations maintains Taylor continues to funnel AK-47s in, and diamonds out, of Sierra Leone, and therefore retains its long-standing arms embargo on Taylor.

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