UN sanctions on Liberia lifted with conditions

The African Union's influential Peace and Security Council supports lifting U.N. sanctions against Liberia to help finance reconstruction, but only if there are checks against corruption and October elections are free and fair, a diplomat said today.

The council's decision was made after it met Monday to discuss a report by the African Union's executive body that recommended new thinking on the sanctions was needed to allow the Liberian transitional government to use its natural resources to revive the economy.

"The lifting of the sanctions should be on the cards, but it is important to address all the issues like checking and punishing corrupt practices and ensuring free, fair and transparent elections," Olusegun Akinsanya, Nigeria's ambassador to the organization, told journalists.

Nigeria currently holds the one-month chairmanship of the AU's Peace and Security Council.

Some restrictions would still be needed to ensure any revenue raised by lifting the embargo would not be used to buy new weapons, the report said.

Liberia is scheduled to hold presidential elections on Oct. 11, its first since warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor was forced to step down as rebels shelled the capital in August 2003. Taylor fled into exile in Nigeria, paving the way for the transitional government.

In June, the U.N. Security Council voted to extend sanctions on Liberian diamonds, timber trade and an arms embargo for six months, until Dec. 21, saying the country's transitional government had failed to control illicit trade in its valuable resources.

The council approved the bans in May 2001 after determining that Taylor had helped rebels in Sierra Leone fight the government there.

Self-serving former warlords make up much of the transitional government, which is "saddled with widespread corruption," AU Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare said in the report.

Liberia's judiciary is "rife with favoritism and prejudice" and some of the newly trained police force is also corrupt, he said.

Founded by freed American slaves in the mid-19th century, Liberia, with a population of 3.5 million, is struggling to recover from nearly 14 years of warfare that ended with Taylor's fall, AP reports.

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