THE LORDS OF MISRULE
This past March, a UN panel revealed that Liberian officials had signed a secret contract with an obscure European company, giving it a virtual monopoly on mining diamonds in the troubled country -- even though Liberia has been banned by the UN from selling its diamonds since 2001. The arrangement, it was disclosed, had involved members of the new transitional government operating under the (supposed) scrutiny of a large UN mission.
The discovery should not have come as a surprise. Liberia's new government, supposedly a model of national reconciliation, is largely made up of former militia members. During 15 years of war, armed gangs ravaged Liberia, turning it into a classic example of a failed state. Since the fighting stopped in August 2003, the erstwhile warlords have been quick to set aside their differences -- at least when doing so helps them acquire more loot. The mining deal was just one in a long series of similar scandals perpetrated by senior members of the transitional government, who are rapidly signing away their country's future in return for personal financial gain.
It did not have to be this way. The new regime was established in October 2003 as part of a peace agreement brokered by West African states and supported by Washington -- and backed up by a powerful UN peacekeeping mission. The UN force, originally led by Jacques Klein (a former U.S. diplomat with strong military credentials), has worked to disarm local fighters, build a working bureaucracy, organize democratic elections, and establish a basis for lasting peace. Preparations for presidential and parliamentary elections are proceeding on schedule, with voting expected to take place in October.
Unfortunately, the interim government has used the time to make things worse. Liberian warlords and politicians have found it easy to outmaneuver the UN and the international community in the conduct of what locals, with their habitual grim humor, call "business more than usual." Despite claims that they are struggling for peace, democracy, and reconciliation,
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