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Fact Sheet

Turmoil in Liberia


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SUMMARY

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Violence and tension have gripped Liberia since Samuel Doe seized power in a 1980 coup that left President William Tolbert dead. Doe, an ethnic Krahn, was the country's first leader not descended from the freed American and West Indian slaves who founded the West African country in the early 19th century. He ruled as a dictator, and the election he won in 1985 was widely regarded as rigged.

In 1989, Charles Taylor -- once a member of the Doe government and a descendant of the freed slave ruling class -- led a revolt that resulted in Doe's execution and triggered a civil war involving several factions that blighted Liberia for seven years. An estimated 200,000 people died before a shaky peace agreement was mediated in 1996. Taylor's faction emerged from the fighting as a dominant force, and when special elections were held in 1997, he and his National Patriotic Party won an overwhelming victory.

For the past three years, rebels from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy group have been attacking government forces in an attempt to oust Taylor. The insurgents and their allies hold about 60 percent of the country and recently launched attacks on the capital, Monrovia. Thousands have died and even more are homeless and starving. The country's economy is in disarray, and its infrastructure is in ruins.

UPDATE

• President Bush is considering deploying U.S. troops to Liberia after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called in June for a multinational force to be sent to halt fighting between government and rebel forces. A military and civil affairs assessment team arrived in the country July 7 to begin gauging humanitarian needs and possibly to lay the groundwork for a deployment of U.S. peacekeeping troops.

• On July 6, Taylor accepted Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's offer of temporary asylum, but he offered no timetable for his departure. Taylor has said he would not leave until an international peacekeeping force was in place to prevent further chaos and lawlessness.

• A U.N.-backed war crimes court for Sierra Leone indicted Taylor in June on charges that he armed and trained rebels there in exchange for diamonds. The 10-year civil war in Sierra Leone left an estimated 50,000 dead, and Amnesty International said the conflict "was characterized by some of the worst abuses known." A special prosecutor with the court said offering Taylor asylum from the charges would violate international law.

• In June, Taylor agreed during peace talks in Ghana to step down, but on his return to Liberia he remained in power. Rebel forces then resumed attacks on Monrovia, and civilians demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy to urge the United States to help the country whose founding it supported.

KEY QUESTIONS

How soon will Taylor honor his pledge to take asylum in Nigeria?

Will Taylor's asylum mean that he won't face war crimes charges?

Will Taylor be allowed to eventually return to Liberia once peace has been achieved?

WHO'S WHO

Charles Taylor: Liberian president and former guerrilla leader whose revolt in 1989 plunged the country into seven years of civil war; accused by the United Nations and humanitarian groups of undermining the stability of West Africa by supporting rebel groups that have committed numerous atrocities.


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