WMU News

Liberia's stability essential to region

July 29, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves and Africa's oldest republic, has been in political turmoil and a state of almost continuous civil war for more than two decades. The country's president, Charles Taylor, led armed rebellions during the 1980s and 1990s before winning election in 1997.

"It's a serious crisis going back to 1980," says Dr. Amos Beyan, a Western Michigan University associate professor of history and Africana studies and Liberian native. Beyan says some 250,000 Liberians have been killed since political upheaval began. But the impact of Liberia's instability is even more widespread and has had a destabilizing effect on neighboring countries.

Taylor is accused of human rights atrocities in Sierra Leone, where he is suspected of profiting massively from supporting rebels operating in diamond mining areas. He also is accused of embezzling millions of dollars from his own country.

"The United Nations and United States imposed sanctions on Liberia, all designed to punish Charles Taylor, but the effect has been on ordinary Liberians," Beyan says. "Charles Taylor's oppression was only reinforced."

Though Taylor was elected president by a wide margin in 1997, Beyan says Taylor does not have a legitimate claim to the country's highest office. "Many people voted for him out of fear," Beyan says. "People were afraid that if he didn't win, the war would continue. He became extremely oppressive and killed anyone who opposed him."

Beyan says intervention by an international peacekeeping force from West African nations and led by the United States is needed to halt the bloodshed and restore stability.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu


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