afrol News, 2 June - Two new reports looking into the exploitation of Liberia's strategic natural resources concludes that the government still is not in control. Ex-combatants grouped by former rebel leaders still are exploiting Liberian diamonds, timber and rubber, controlling entire regions. The UN therefore has been advised to resist Liberian government pressure and maintain its trade sanctions against Liberia when it is to review them later this month.
Global Witness, a London-based organisation, yesterday released a report entitled 'Cautiously Optimistic: the case for maintaining sanctions in Liberia'. The report concludes that UN sanctions on Liberian diamonds and timber "should not be lifted until the government has gained full control over these resources."
Also the Liberian group Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) in a report this week said that in a similar situation in 1997, an export boom had failed to help the country because it was not yet ready. The SDI report held that Liberia needed more time to assure transparent, legal and functioning structures of the timber and diamond sectors before sanctions could be lifted.
According to the Global Witness report, large areas of resource rich territory remain under the control of ex-combatants, who "are exploiting rubber and diamonds, generating significant illicit revenues" that could be used to finance future armed operations. Currently the Liberian government and the UN peacekeepers in Liberia (UNMIL) had "not developed a strategy to deal with this problem," the report holds.
The investigators found that "large numbers of ex-combatants continue to mine diamonds illegally, generating significant uncontrolled revenues and demonstrating the continued lack of control by the government over its territory, and thus raising security concerns." The Liberian Ministry of Lands and Mines was further found to have made "insufficient progress" in implementing the necessary controls for Liberia to join the so-called "Kimberley Process" - which certifies diamonds as legally obtained - and thus for UN sanctions to be lifted.
Also in the forestry and rubber sectors - two main Liberian cash providers - Global Witness remains critical. "Significant progress" had been made in the reform of the forestry sector, including the cancellation of all previous concessions, but the government has not yet succeeded in its efforts to control forest regions and "illegal pit sawing by ex-combatants is continuing." So-called "no-go" areas were also becoming a "safe haven" for ex-combatants to generate unallocated and uncontrolled revenue from the rubber sector.
The group however holds that real progress had been made. "Under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the new Liberian government has made significant progress towards reforming the natural resources sector and tackling corruption," commented Natalie Ashworth of Global Witness. "However, much more needs to be done before Liberia can be said to have met the criteria for lifting sanctions," she added.
"In the past revenue from both the diamond and timber industries have been used to fuel conflict which consumed Liberia and the region," said Ms Ashworth. "It is essential that long-term measures are put in place to prevent this from happening again and to ensure that Liberia's natural resources are used for the country’s development and reconstruction."
The investigations in Liberia in March-April 2006 even had confirmed that ex-combatants were in control of two large rubber plantations - Guthrie and Sinoe. "The ex-combatants organise the exploitation of rubber, directed by their former rebel command structures," the report says. Some of the ex-combatants had told the Global Witness investigators that they had not been through the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration process organised by UNMIL.
The rubber was found to be "generating significant unallocated and unrestricted revenue for these ex-combatants." According to Ms Ashworth, "President Sirleaf has recognised the risk presented by the ex-combatants' presence in the rubber plantations, but the new government and security forces do not have the means to restore control without assistance. UNMIL must urgently assist the government to remove the ex-combatants as part of a broader strategy which provides them with alternative sources of employment," she urged.
Also the Liberian organisation Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) is sceptical to an early lifting of the sanctions in a report sent to the UN this week. "It is worth mentioning here that increasing timber production and export after elections in 1997 did not contribute to Liberia's post conflict recovery then, and without reform it will not contribute to post-conflict development today," the SDI concludes." Instead, it will undermine the peace by providing opportunities for former combatants and their commanders to maintain war-time command structures as militia groups with different companies under the guise of private securities."
Like the diamond sector, reform in the forest sector had by now "taken off" and was "gathering momentum," the Monrovia-based group said. "But in order to address decades of mismanagement of the forest and institutional breakdown at the Forestry Development Authority, the reform process must be allowed to proceed ‘one step at a time’ and should not be fast-tracked to meet or satisfied conditions for the lifting of sanctions," SDI urged in its report.
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