NGO, West Africa Group at Odds on Liberia Sanctions

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(Rapaport…June 6, 2006) In advance of the United Nation’s review of diamond sanctions in Liberia, two organizations offered different points of view on whether or not sanctions should be lifted on the West Africa nation.

“It is important sanctions should be lifted on the country for the new government to have access to needed resources to execute its program and improve the living standards of the people,” said Mohammed Ibn Chambas, executive secretary of the economic community of West African States (ECOWAS.)

However, Global Witness does not entirely agree. The NGO (non-governmental organization) published a new report; “Cautiously Optimistic — the case for maintaining sanctions in Liberia,” in which it demonstrates how Liberia has not yet complied with criteria for lifting sanctions. Global Witness said that maintaining sanctions should not be seen as a punitive measure, but as a way of supporting the new government’s reforms.

“Much more needs to be done before Liberia can be said to have met the criteria for lifting sanctions,” said Natalie Ashworth, Global Witness campaigner, but the organization did praise efforts to reform the nation under its new President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Diamonds and timber were Liberia’s top exports prior to civil war. “The danger is that if democracy does not produce quick dividends in both Sierra Leone and Liberia…apathy and cynicism may begin to set in,” Ibn Chambas said.

The United Nations Security Council renewed diamond and timber sanctions in December 2005 for an additional six months, but it funded an expert panel to report back on progress made by June 7.

Global Witness urged against “sacrificing benchmarks for short-term political gains or gestures,” and said it had found large areas of resource rich territory remaining under the control of ex-combatants, who are exploiting rubber and diamonds.

Ashworth said that the United Nations must “urgently assist the government to remove the ex-combatants as part of a broader strategy, which provides them with alternative sources of employment.”

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