Viewing cable 02ABUJA622

02ABUJA6222002-02-26 14:05:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Abuja
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ABUJA 000622 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/22/2012 
     ¶B. B) ABUJA 507 
Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter. Reasons 1.5 (b) and 
¶1. (C) Summary. During a February 22 meeting at my residence, 
Liberian opposition leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (EJS) told 
me the security situation in Liberia was difficult to read. 
While acknowledging the LURD's ability to disrupt and raid 
areas closer to Monrovia, she did not think the rebel group 
was sufficiently strong to hold territory, much less capture 
Monrovia, at least not in the short-term. Yet, for divergent 
reasons, the LURD exaggerated its strength, while Taylor 
inflated the threat in order to gain sympathy 
internationally, muzzle dissent and detain suspected fifth 
columnists at home. EJS characterized the LURD as an 
approximate reincarnation of ULIMO-J and ULIMO-K, both 
containing hard-line elements no less preoccupied by power 
than the incumbent they sought to oust. To stave off a future 
battle of attrition for Monrovia, EJS thought an all Liberian 
reconciliation conference, that included the GOL and LURD, 
was essential. During her previous night's conversation with 
President Obasanjo and ECOWAS ExecSec Chambas, it was agreed 
to convene the meeting on March 14-15 in Abuja. Chambas 
planned to fly to Monrovia and Dakar by the end of the month 
for consultations with Taylor and ECOWAS Chairman Wade before 
making a public announcement about convening the meeting. 
Obasanjo said he would personally extend an invitation to 
Taylor for the meeting, also letting Taylor know that his 
non-attendance would be seen as a personal affront. End 
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¶2. (C)  ESJ said it was difficult to assess the extent of the 
fighting and to accurately gauge the threat the LURD posed to 
the Taylor Government. Due to a combination of fiction, fraud 
and fear, both sides -- the LURD and the Government of 
Liberia -- as well as many Liberians were exaggerating the 
military state of play. 
¶3. (C)  In the realm of fiction, the LURD claimed victories 
and troop strength beyond its means. In the realm of fear, 
the devastation visited on the city during the civil war made 
Monrovia's collective psyche very fragile.  There was a sense 
of gloom that Liberia was set to repeat the cycle of violence 
that brought Taylor to power. Rekindling these old nightmares 
was the sight of Liberians fleeing to Monrovia from western 
Liberia just as people once flooded the capital when Taylor 
began his rebellion twelve years ago. Despite Taylor's 
legendary braggadocio, his government often operated out of 
fear if not outright paranoia. Thus, Taylor was overreacting 
to the LURD threat to Monrovia and his government.  Implying 
the state of emergency was unnecessary, ESJ claimed that 
Taylor was using the situation to detain and harass hundreds 
of young men with no connection to the LURD.  Fraudulently, 
Taylor's security agents were further exploiting this ploy, 
turning it into a new extortion racket by refusing to release 
detainees unless relatives paid hefty ransoms for their 
freedom.  While LURD operatives were in Monrovia, they were 
too weak and too few to militarily threaten Taylor, she 
¶4. (C) When I asked about the leadership of the LURD, Ellen 
stated she did not know LURD Commander Konneh and some of the 
others who claim to command the group's front-line fighters. 
However, Konneh's recent public statements to the media where 
he demonstrated much more political ambition than acumen were 
troubling.  According to ESJ, the LURD was basically ULIMO 
reincarnated. As such, it was split along Krahn/Mandingo 
lines, with the Mandingo and Lofa County-born elements based 
mainly in Guinea and the Krahn in Sierra Leone. There were 
various sub-factions and tendencies within each group. ESJ 
claimed Alhaji Kromah was passing himself off as the leader 
of the Mandingo wing, but his power did not extend beyond his 
ability to manipulate the international media. While many of 
his former lieutenants were active in the LURD, they no 
longer owed their primary loyalty to Kromah. However, Kromah 
symbolized a troubling element in the LURD. Labeling Kromah 
no more a democrat than Taylor, she felt there were other 
Mandingo hot-heads who wanted to seize power as well. If 
Kromah or another Mandingo hard-liner emerged, a LURD 
government would be little better than Taylor's. 
¶5. (C) Ellen mentioned there were moderates in the 
Mandingo/Lofa camp who realized most Liberians were not ready 
to see "foreign" Mandingos take the helm. These moderates 
seemed willing to discuss a broad-based interim government 
and elections. ESF included non-Mandingos such as Former 
Taylor Justice Minister Laveli Supuwood and Abidjan-based 
former Interior Minister Soko Sackor in this group of 
moderates.  Giving the impression that she was in contact 
with these two and others, EJS intimated that discussions 
about drafting the venerable Rudolph Grimes to head an 
interim government to prepare for elections had taken place. 
In that Grimes was old, honest and without Presidential 
ambition, all sides could more readily trust him to run 
things fairly and not stay in office beyond his allotted 
time. However, she feared these moderates in the political 
wing did not have the influence over the younger military 
commanders they might think. If the LURD achieved military 
victory, the commanders, after tasting power and success, 
could not be trusted to hand over to the politicians who had 
been watching the fighting from the sidelines. "We have been 
down that road  before," she noted. ( Comment: ESJ was 
alluding to how Taylor ignored his political sponsors, 
including Ellen herself, when he hijacked undisputed 
leadership of the NPFL years ago. End Comment.) 
¶6. (C)  With regard to the Krahn element in the LURD, EJS did 
not have much contact or knowledge of the key players but 
suspected that Roosevelt Johnson, who now resided in Nigeria, 
might still wield influence.  She believed most of the Krahns 
were Doe-era die-hards nostalgic for a return of that Krahn 
heyday. While the Mandingos received support from President 
Conte, ESF did not think  President Kabbah was helping the 
Sierra Leone-based Krahn. However, the Krahn were getting 
help and some recruits from the CDF and Kamajors. Ellen also 
thought disenchanted elements of the AFL were abetting the 
LURD because Taylor was not paying them and was otherwise 
ignoring their welfare in favor of his Anti-Terrorism Unit 
¶7. (C) ESJ dismissed GOL claims that former Senator and 
Taylor ally Charles Brumskine was involved with the LURD. The 
GOL was simply trying to tarnish Brumskine because he had the 
temerity to challenge Taylor for the NPP's Presidential 
nomination. Taylor brooked no opposition, and to a certain 
degree, could not help but lump together in his mind 
Brumskine's political challenge with the LURD's military one. 
¶8. (C) Ultimately, the best thing for Liberia would be for 
Taylor to leave office. Saying Taylor had proven himself 
incapable of governing, EJS contended that Taylor's persona 
was one that could only thrive on chaos; thus, as long as he 
was in power, he would burden his people and would be a drag 
on the entire sub-region. "We all must work together to 
provide an exit for him," was Johnson-Sirleaf's solution. 
Taylor could not live in Liberia without being in power 
because his ambition and paranoia would prevent him from 
retiring peacefully to the Liberian countryside. After I 
disabused her of the notion that the U.S. might provide haven 
for Taylor,  ESJ mentioned Morocco as a potential exile, 
given that Morocco was arranging a Mano River Summit at 
France's urging. Because of the favorable French connection, 
Taylor might be amenable to a permanent Moroccan vacation. 
Closer to home, the only country in the sub-region that could 
serve as an a place of exile and keep Taylor sufficiently 
under wraps would be Nigeria.  However, she acknowledged 
Taylor did not feel comfortable here and would think an 
invitation to live in Nigeria might be a trap to imprison him 
¶9. (C)  Because of Taylor's addiction to power and money, 
Ellen did not think he would leave office quietly or quickly, 
although she had been told that Taylor was moving his most 
prized possessions from other parts of the country to 
Monrovia should a quick exit become necessary. Yet, the 
current level of difficulties were not enough to uproot him. 
Stating that he would leave if there were no other 
alternative, ESJ did not think Taylor would replicate Doe, 
hanging on even after the last hope had vanished. However, 
Taylor's stubbornness and willingness to fight nearly to the 
end could spell doom for Monrovia if the LURD ever mustered 
the firepower for a bona fide assault against the capital. 
She predicted a terrible battle of attrition and urban 
warfare. If Taylor felt the tide was against him that he had 
to retreat, he would want to destroy as much of the city as 
possible, believing if he could not have it no one should. If 
this happened, the all-out battle for Monrovia would be a 
humanitarian disaster. 
¶10. (C)  EJS also discounted the possibility of major 
defections within  the Taylor government despite the current 
difficulties. Senior officials remained loyal out of fear. 
While thinking an open rupture within the government 
unlikely, she foresaw some officials finding ways to go 
overseas for "government business" then prolonging their 
stays until the dust settled. 
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¶11. (C) As long as Taylor remained in power, the stability of 
Sierra Leone would be threatened.  Ellen said Taylor was 
getting help from the RUF, who would stand beside him if 
Monrovia came under serious attack. RUF support not only 
bolstered Taylor's security; it maintained his role in Sierra 
Leone. The strategy of Taylor and the hard-core RUF was to 
wait out the international community's presence in Sierra 
Leone. The RUF would bide its time until the UN packed its 
bags. Once the blue helmets departed, the RUF, supported by 
Taylor, would begin to wreak havoc once more. Ellen hoped it 
would be harder for Taylor to execute his strategy this time 
around because some key friends were pulling away from him. 
Not wanting to be tagged with the "terrorist" stigma after 
September 11, both Tripoli and Ouagadougou were distancing 
themselves from Monrovia, with Campaore now even in the 
anti-Taylor camp. (Note: Ellen said that Obasanjo was of the 
same view regarding Campaore after a recent Abuja meeting 
with the Burkinabe leader. End Note.)  However, claiming that 
a recent clandestine shipment of arms to Taylor emanated from 
either Bamako or Lome, Ellen noted that both the Malian 
President and Togolese strongman appeared to be inching 
closer to Taylor, probably for financial reasons. 
¶12. (C) Because many of the players in the Sierra Leonean 
equation -- the RUF, CDF and Kamajors -- were being swept 
into the Liberian mix, a collapse in Liberia could have dire 
consequences for Sierra Leone, including the possibility of 
rekindling the war in that country if Monrovia came under 
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¶13. (C)  Due to the high political anxiety the LURD presence 
was now causing, the reconciliation conference was needed now 
more than before, ESF suggested. ( Ellen commented that many 
Monrovians were leaving and senior GOL officials were sending 
their families out of the city.)  Previous planning called 
for the conference to be focused on the creation of 
conditions for fair elections. Participants would have been 
the GOL, opposition parties, and civil society, with the LURD 
ultimately brought into the process down the line to preclude 
them from citing their exclusion as a reason to continue 
fighting. However, Taylor characteristically vacillated over 
the idea of holding the conference. When he finally turned 
against it (Ref B), Taylor paid members of the Coalition of 
Political Parties, most notably the TWP's Rudolph Sherman, to 
endorse his idea of a conference in Monrovia in July. 
¶14. (C)  Because Taylor would control the Monrovia venue, EJS 
dismissed its utility, claiming that Taylor conceived it in 
hopes of short-circuiting efforts to hold the Abuja 
conference. However, during her February 21 meeting with 
President Obasanjo and ECOWAS ExecSec Chambas, the three 
agreed to convene an all Liberian meeting in Abuja on March 
14-15. President Obasanjo said not only would he personally 
invite Taylor but would let the Liberian know that his 
non-attendance would be considered a personal affront. 
15.(C) Asserting that it was too late to draw the LURD in 
gradually, Ellen said the LURD leadership would be invited to 
this initial meeting. LURD attendance would give ECOWAS the 
opportunity to unambiguously tell the faction's leaders that 
they would face regional and international opprobrium unless 
they committed to free elections according to the 
constitutional timetable, i.e. 2003, notwithstanding the 
situation on the ground militarily. However, ESF feared that, 
during the interim between now and the conference, the LURD 
might become emboldened and recalcitrant should it somehow 
manage a significant military victory.  To get Taylor's 
buy-in for the meeting, Chambas would fly to Monrovia before 
the end of the month to discuss the conference with Taylor, 
who would not assent if the meeting were announced before 
being discussed with him. The date of the conference would be 
publicly announced soon after Chambas talked with Taylor. 
ESJ stated that Obasanjo and Chambas had agreed, nonetheless, 
that the conference would take place with or without Taylor's 
¶16. (C) EJS was very open and shared her views freely. While 
fairly confident the conference will take place, she is less 
sanguine about Taylor's participation and the ultimate 
success of the endeavor. However, given Liberia's slump 
toward increased fighting, the conference may be the best, 
albeit uncertain, diplomatic tool available to arrest the 
current course. Yet, if Taylor or his minions attend, they 
will likely fill the hall with empty promises without the 
intention of fulfilling any but the most inconsequential of 
these commitments. Ellen is convinced that Taylor is 
17  (C) For Johnson-Sirleaf, the true purpose of the 
conference seems to have shifted from pressuring Taylor to 
hold fair elections to using the venue to apply pressure on 
the LURD to restrain their political ambitions to fit within 
a more democratic game-plan.  Perhaps she thinks this 
approach provides the best chance to fashion the combined 
political/military pressure, an effective one-two punch, that 
will lead to her real objective -- the creation of a 
democratic opening that both removes Taylor yet, at the same 
time, prevents a similar personality from taking over.