U.S. to Introduce U.N. Resolution to End Liberia Arms Embargo

The United States will introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution to lift the arms embargo on Liberia, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Tuesday.

Bolton said that the resolution would help bring peace and stability to Liberia as its president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, tries to rebuild the country after years of war and civil strife under Charles Taylor. Johnson Sirleaf requested the embargo be lifted.

"It may seem counterintuitive to start with this, but this was what the president herself thought was important," Bolton said about the resolution, which was expected to be introduced later Tuesday.

CountryWatch: Liberia

Bolton called the move "quite logical when you consider the importance of making sure the government is able to be sovereign throughout its entire territory and to provide law and order and conditions of stability for the people, which they sorely need."

Lifting the embargo is also necessary for the U.S.-funded effort to rebuild the Liberian military, said Princeton Lyman, director of Africa Policy Studies for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Liberia's army disintegrated as Taylor fled into exile in August 2003, but dangerous militia factions still exist in the region, Lyman said. Those factions are currently monitored by 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers.

"We have to make sure we don't start demobilizing too fast," Lyman said, referring to the peacekeepers.

He said one fear is that a lift of the arms embargo could draw the attention of neighboring countries.

"There will be a little concern that the wrong people might take advantage of this," he said.

The Security Council imposed arms and diamond embargoes on Liberia in May 2001 — when Taylor ruled the country — to stop the flow of arms into the country and to keep the clashing groups from using diamond revenues to fuel the conflict.

Johnson Sirleaf has also asked that other sanctions, including those on diamonds and timber, be lifted.

Bolton said the Security Council would consider Johnson Sirleaf's request only after the country is stabilized "to make sure that the commodities go into legitimate commerce."

"As those conditions are returned, the level of foreign investment and development will be increasing," Bolton said.

The transitional government of Liberia handed over power to Johnson Sirleaf on Jan. 16. She is the first elected female head of an African nation.