Journalists want emergency off, say crisis may be stage-managed

Liberian journalists on Monday called on President Charles Taylor to lift the state of emergency he imposed on 8 February, saying there was growing suspicion that the unfolding humanitarian crisis in the country was being stage-managed.

The journalists, in a statement by the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), said they were disturbed by press reports that the population displacement and heightened insecurity that preceded the declaration of the state of emergency, might have been triggered by exchanges of gunfire between government troops.

"We hope that this crisis is not being orchestrated, at the cost of innocent lives, to serve the political interests of Mr. Taylor or the LURD ((Liberia United for Reconciliation and Development) rebels," ALJA said.

"There are growing suspicions," it added, "that the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe is being stage-managed, in an attempt to force the United Nations to lift the arms embargo and sanctions imposed on Liberia. The LURD is also suspected of being in complicity with (President Charles) Taylor in creating a sense of chaos."

The journalists appealed to the UN to retain the arms embargo and other sanctions against Liberia.

"Whatever the motivations behind the recent escalation in fighting in Liberia, ALJA calls on the armed groups involved to respect and uphold the basic human rights of civilians," they added. "It is our hope that the prevailing state of affairs in Liberia would not provide an opportunity to further intensify the already brutal suppression of press freedom and dissent."

On 11 February, Amnesty International had called on Liberia's government to stop using the state of emergency as a justification by security forces to abuse power and commit human rights violations against civilians.

Meanwhile an Antonov plane crashed near the international Airport on Friday. Media organisations quoted the Ministry of Information as saying that the plane had exploded on impact and that a government investigation was underway.

Aid workers in the capital, Monrovia, told IRIN on Monday, the city was calm and "people were going about their normal business".