WASHINGTON (May 30, 2003) -— A military solution to ongoing violence in Liberia is not possible, according to the chairman of the bishops' International Policy Committee, who urged the international community to support a regional solution to the crisis in western Africa.
"Despite efforts by the Catholic Church and other religious institutions to promote peace and reconciliation, government and rebel forces continue to choose violence over dialogue, and the pursuit of selfish political and economic gains at the expense of the civilian population," said Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, of Pensacola-Tallahassee, in a statement released today.
Liberia, located on the west coast of Africa, was ravaged by one of Africa's worst civil wars from 1989 to 1994. More than 200,000 Liberians were killed. Since 1999, when civil war returned to Liberia, more than a million people have been forcibly displaced and another half-million have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
"Government and rebel forces have been accused of committing egregious human rights abuses, including the sexual abuse of women and young girls and the conscription of minors for military service, massive looting, ethnic massacres and other atrocities," Bishop Ricard said. "Unemployment hovers at over 85% and most legal economic activities are at a standstill."
Bishop Ricard said that due to accusations and counter-accusations among Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d'Ivoire, a regional approach to find a peaceful solution was necessary.
"Peace and stability can only come to Liberia if all governments in the region end all support for insurgent forces, bring an end to the arms trafficking, and build a consensus on a well-coordinated and implemented program of national and regional reconciliation," Bishop Ricard said. He urged greater assistance from the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations' International Contact Group on Liberia, and the United States.
In addition, Bishop Ricard offered his support for a recent UN decision to extend an embargo on arms sales, targeted travel restrictions on government and military leaders, and an embargo on diamonds originating in Liberia. He also joined the call by the Catholic Church and the Interreligious Council of Liberia for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.