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VI. Current Theaters: Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire

A friend came from Liberia and asked me to go for a mission. He said there’s a package for me – that we would regroup with the guys who have taken war to be a business.
–  Sheku, 35 years-old, Sierra Leone

Thirty-four fighters interviewed for this report, representing well over two-thirds of the Liberians and several of the Sierra Leoneans, had since April 2004 been approached and asked to join a fighting “mission” in Guinea.  About half had been approached by commanders claiming to represent a fledgling Guinean insurgency, and the other half by those claiming to be supporters of Guinean President Lansana Conté who sought to organize militias to assist in national defense. Several had also been approached about fighting in the ongoing conflict in Côte d’Ivoire. Judging from the pattern set by the region’s recent armed conflicts, a resumption of hostilities in Côte d’Ivoire or an internal armed conflict in Guinea would no doubt have devastating consequences for the civilian populations in both countries. The United Nations Mission in Liberia told Human Rights Watch they are concerned about ongoing recruitment of recently demobilized Liberian combatants for possible use in armed conflicts in neighboring countries.76


In August 2004, Guinean embassy officials in Liberia said they were receiving consistent reports about recruitment of former Liberian combatants “intent on destabilizing Guinea”. They said they had written letters to the United Nations to register their concern and asked that U.N. peacekeepers from UNMIL step up their patrols along Liberia’s border with Guinea. They characterized the threat as coming not from a Guinean insurgency, but rather from foreigners who would rely on ‘mercenaries’ recruited from within Liberia and elsewhere. The Guinean ambassador to Liberia issued this warning: “Let me be clear: if we are attacked from Liberia, we will follow the attackers in hot pursuit until Ganta or anywhere else they may be based. The Guinean army is ready.” In 2001, the Guinean government responded to attacks on the Guinean towns of Gueckedou, Macenta, Foracariah and Pamelap with often indiscriminant helicopter gunship attacks on RUF controlled areas of northern Sierra Leone which killed scores of Sierra Leonean civilians.77

The ex-combatants interviewed for this report gave detailed descriptions of encounters with recruiters who had spoken with them in Monrovia and in villages in Lofa and Nimba counties, which share borders with Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. Most were approached by either one ex-fighter, or by a small group of former combatants, usually including one of their former commanders. A few gave detailed accounts of meetings. Those recruiting to destabilize Guinea appear to have been strong supporters of former president Charles Taylor of Liberia, including some of his former generals. The majority of recruiters working on behalf of President Conté predictably come from the ranks of the LURD. However, a 2003 split in the LURD leadership seems to have motivated several former high-level LURD commanders to begin recruiting for those opposed to President Conté. Those being used for the recruitment were typically former mid-level and unit commanders. Some were asked to mobilize their entire units. Interestingly, recruiters from both sides have adopted an ‘affirmative action approach’ and routinely seek out their erstwhile foes as well. Combatants were typically offered from $100-$500, and in a few cases $1000, depending on their rank and position, and most were given a small token of money during the encounter with the recruiter.

A twenty-nine-year-old Liberian commander who fought in Liberia, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire – and was at the time of this interview preparing to travel to Guinea to take part in a future operation there – explains the economic desperation which motivated him:

If I die in Guinea, then it was God who sent me to die there. I can bear taking that chance. But what I can’t bear is not having money for my wife and children to eat, or pay the rent. Look at the present case – the one who came to tell me about the operation in Guinea gave me money to pay the rent. And that’s what matters.78 

A former NPFL combatant was approached in June 2004 by those seeking to unseat Conté. He agreed to go to Guinea and was asked to organize some of his former subordinates. He explained:

I’m a general so people come to see me. In July a lady called W came to my place. She told me she wants me to go to Guinea; that the same way Taylor was taken from power in Liberia is the same way we’re going to take Conté from power in Guinea. She said she’ll give me $1500 to do it and that she sought me out because of all the men I have. I told her I am willing to go because I’m sitting here doing nothing. After this first meeting I went around meeting with some of my former boys but also former ex-coms from the LURD and MODEL. They’re all willing to go – we’re all suffering from lack of cash.

She told me we were going to have a meeting so I had gathered many of the boys together in the compound. She spoke to the guys and she gave them each US $40 then and said she’d pay the rest when we arrived in Guinea. I fought in Lofa and know it well and am trying to find Lofians and boys who’ve fought there to go on the operation. I got my $150 but it’s already spent; I shared it with my parents, and used it to pay my children’s school fees. I want to learn a trade but I don’t know when the training program will start and I can’t wait. I need money now.79 

This Liberian who formerly fought with the Liberian government forces has, since June 2003, been approached for re-recruitment by several people claiming to represent both sides of a future conflict in Guinea:

From June 2004 people have come to me to discuss the Guinea operation. About one month ago in Red Light [neighborhood] I was walking on the street with a few friends when a guy named J who used to be a LURD commander drove by with two other guys in a pick-up. They invited us to a drink at a local bar.  While drinking J said, ‘My man, I got a mission going and we need men. Even though we used to be enemies, we’re all interrelated now.’ We talked a long time – we drank two stouts each. He explained that the mission was to go as rebels against the government.  He gave us a bit of money so we’d feel fine.  I said I wasn’t sure and he said, ‘My man, you’re going to miss an opportunity to eat well.’ 80

A former LURD commander who said he had been approached numerous times by recruiters happened upon a meeting in Masambalahun, Lofa country in late July, 2004. He explained:

In July I’d gone to Guinea to buy some soap to bring back to Monrovia to sell. I was in Masambalahun and I saw that people were organizing themselves for a meeting. People started saying, ‘the chief is going to come to give us a brief.’ There were a lot of people there – about 175. He started talking about the mission and said, ‘we want you to go to Guinea.’ He said the junior commanders would get $500 US and the big commanders $1000, and that once we crossed over we’d be met by a Guinean official and would get all the necessary briefing. During the meetings some people got fed up and started leaving. I just sat and listened. I spoke with a few of them and they told me that they’d already registered for DDR but that since they were just sitting around with nothing to do, they might as well be on that side – meaning Guinea. Later in the day I saw about 50 of them going towards the ferry which crosses over into Guinea.81  

Most fighters who had been approached for re-recruitment said they were not willing to fight in either Guinea or Côte d’Ivoire on account of their anticipated entry into a DDRR-sponsored job training or education program. They anticipated that this opportunity would make a significant difference in their lives. Four fighters who had all been approached to fight in either Guinea or Côte d’Ivoire gave their views.

A thirty-three year old Liberian who has been approached for recruitment several times:

We Africans are quick to get caught up in the cycle of violence because we have no education.  If any of my former soldiers is offered as little as $100 USD they’ll go follow the next war.  I was invited to several meetings last month. My friends are talking to me about it – many have gone over.82  

A forty-three-year-old former LURD artillery commander:

I have one daughter who’s eight years old. She is my future.  I don’t want to go again. The big men lied to us. They took us from our homes to accomplish their aim. I told them I wasn’t going to go. I made them to know what was in me before is not in me now – the war mentality.83

A twenty-seven-year-old who originally joined the LURD voluntarily to avenge the death of his father who was years earlier been killed by the NPFL: 

Last month, a Guinean named K approached me and asked me to join for a new fight in Guinea – but to help Lansana Conté stay in power. I told him no. I said I had fought in Liberia for a reason and that that reason was over. He asked me if I didn’t want to earn money. I’ve thought a lot about war…I thought about the reasons why I joined – to avenge my father’s death – but then I asked myself, “am I God to be settling scores for my father’s death?” This will be done later between the one who killed my father and his God.  I’m preparing to do something for my future.  I said no – no more.84

A twenty-nine-year-old Liberian commander who joined the NPFL as a child:

My fighting friends have come to discuss this with me several times; they think I have the same mentality, but I’m not interested. Everything must have an end… and this war has come to an end. So many things happened that I saw. God spared my life and I don’t want any more war. I sometimes have dreams that I’m caught in the middle of a battle with evil people after me. I wake up in the middle of the night, but my woman is trying to help me – she tells me everything will be OK and has taken me to church. Our life should have a purpose.85

Côte d’Ivoire

Several combatants living in both Sierra Leone and Liberia told HRW that they had, since mid-2004, been asked to fight in Côte d’Ivoire, both for the Forces Nouvelles rebels and for the Ivorian government. A few did not know which side they were being asked to join. The November 2004 Ivorian government’s raids against the main rebel-held cities of Bouaké and Korhogo appeared to have spawned an increase in recruitment efforts in Liberia, including of recently demobilized child combatants. 

Social workers working with recently demobilized child combatants in Liberia told Human Rights Watch that scores, if not hundreds, of children who had been demobilized and reunited with their families during the Liberian disarmament exercise have, since at least November 2004, been re-recruited to fight within Côte d’Ivoire. They reported that the children had been offered and given money, clothes and bags of rice.86 The vast majority have, according to their reports, been recruited from Grand Gedeh, River Gee, and Maryland counties in Liberia – areas which border Côte d’Ivoire – and gone to fight alongside Ivorian government militias in western Côte d’Ivoire. Aid agencies working with demobilized Liberian children in Bong and Nimba counties in Liberia, said they believed some children had around November 2004 been recruited to fight alongside Ivorian forces which they believed to be rebels from the Forces Nouvelles. Counsellors working with these children said these former child soldiers openly spoke of their fears of being taken to fight in another war.87 Another aid worker said they had identified six former commanders involved in the recruitment of children in Liberia who were all known by aid agencies and UNMIL.88

The region’s three United Nations peacekeeping missions – UNAMSIL, UNMIL and ONUCI – have made a concerted effort to address the problem of cross-border movements of arms in three ways: by conducting joint air and land patrols; by holding meetings between their respective military commanders and civilian personnel; and by basing liaison officers in each others’ missions. Much of this is done in coordination with the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), which is mandated to promote an integrated sub-regional approach to conflict prevention and protection.89  However, U.N. military personnel on the ground admitted that the heavily forested and porous nature of the borders make effective border control impossible. As one military officer put it, “geography is the key issue here. We could deploy several armies on these borders, and we still wouldn’t find any hard evidence of or be able to stop the movement of combatants and arms.”90

[76] Human Rights Watch interview, February 28, 2005.

[77] Guinean Forces Kill, Wound Civilians in Sierra Leone, Human Rights Watch Press Release, February 28, 2001.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia August 10, 2004.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, August 10, 2004

[80] Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, August 14, 2005

[81] Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, August 14, 2004

[82] Human Rights Watch, Freetown, August 12, 2004

[83] Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, August 14, 2004

[84] Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, August 7, 2004.

[85] Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, August 14, 2004.

[86] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews, January 25, February 7, February 15, 2005.

[87] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, February 25, 2005.

[88] Human Rights Watch phone interview, January 25, 2005.

[89] Progres report of the Secretary-General on ways to combat subregional and cross-border problems in West Africa, February 11, 2005.

[90] Human Rights Watch interview, Monrovia, Liberia, August 5, 2004.

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