Liberia 1997 to Present
Between 1997 and 1999, Liberia enjoyed a period of relative calm. Weapons from previous civil wars were destroyed and the country received international aid to rebuild. Much of this aid, however, was quietly funneled into Taylor and his cabinet's personal accounts. Minor skirmishes along the Sierra Leone border as well as the occasional hostage situation revealed underlying tensions.
In 1999, leaders in Ghana and Nigeria accused Taylor of supporting rebels in Sierra Leone. Between 2000 and 2003, rebel factions began advancing through Liberia, resulting in mass starvation, exile, rape, and other war-related atrocities. Two major rebel groups emerged. Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) was led by Sehon Damate Conneh, Jr. and supposedly backed with funds and arms from Guinea. LURD drew most of its support from old enemies of Taylor. The second rebel faction, Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), was also formed by adversaries of Taylor and was primarily composed of ethnic Khrans.
Various embargoes and sanctions imposed between 2001 and 2003 left Liberia isolated from the international community. UN peacekeepers also avoided the country. Other West African nations, frustrated by the conflict and the constant influx of Liberian refugees, called for ceasefire agreements and peace-talks. Meanwhile, Taylor slowly curtailed individual rights within the nation, first banning certain broadcasts, then political rallies.
On June 2, 2003, a United Nations tribunal indicted Taylor for crimes against humanity. That same month, Taylor signed a ceasefire in which he promised to resign in return for an end to all rebel activity. Taylor, however, delayed leaving the country despite promised asylum in Nigeria. Increased fighting drew LURD forces into Monrovia.
In August 2003, Taylor officially stepped down. LURD and MODEL combined to control two-thirds of the country. Vice President Moses Blah took over briefly in lieu of the appointment of an interim president. The interim government, LURD and MODEL negotiated a peace; one that all sides failed to honor. Gyude Bryant, a businessman without political ties, was named interim President of the two-year National Transition Government of Liberia (NTGL). He inherited a country suffering from mass starvation, lack of infrastructure, and continued rebel factionalism. Around 250,000 Liberians were killed during the course of Liberia?s latest civil wars, and thousands more fled the country.
In an effort to curb violence in Liberia´s capital city, ECOWAS deployed the peacekeeping mission ECOMIL to Monrovia. The initial force was comprised primarily of Nigerians, though the force grew to 3,600 soldiers from throughout Africa. In October 2003, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) replaced ECOMIL. Some of the ECOMIL forces were incorporated into UNMIL, helping that force to grow to its present size of nearly 18,000 peacekeepers. A disarmament program was completed by 2004, but a volatile security situation persisted.
Conditions were stable enough, however, for Liberia to hold presidential and legislative elections on October 11, 2005. The two frontrunners for the top office were Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, an American-trained economist, and internationally known soccer star George Weah. After a close election, Liberian citizens voted 59.4 percent to 40.6 percent in favor of Sirleaf in a November 8 presidential run-off. Inaugurated in January 2006, Sirleaf was Liberia´s first democratically elected female president. The president´s Unity Party was unable to take control of the legislature, where 12 of the 30 Liberian political parties are represented.
As President Sirleaf goes about rebuilding her struggling homeland, Liberia´s most notorious son is facing imprisonment. The Special Court for Sierra Leone convened at The Hague on June 4, 2007. Approved by the UN and Sierra Leone and funded by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands, the Special Court sits to hear testimony related to the 11 charges facing Taylor. These charges cover war crimes and crimes against humanity Taylor is suspected of having committed in Sierra Leone in the 1990s. Taylor, at first refuting the jurisdiction of the court, eventually entered a plea of not guilty. He refused to appear for opening arguments, claiming that his counsel was unable to provide him with an adequate defense. As Taylor is the first African head of state to be tried under international law, the potential challenges facing and ramifications of the tribunal are largely uncertain. The trial is expected to last for at least one year. If convicted, the British government has offered to intern Taylor.