Merchant of Death
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A Bad Start in Liberia of Johnson-Serlif
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will become the first elected woman head of state in Africa when she takes office in Liberia today. But she already has several important factors working against her. The first is the election of Edwin Snowe, the former son-in-law and close financial associate of Charles Taylor, as speaker of the house of representatives.

Snowe, who is on the U.N. and U.S. travel ban lists and asset seizure list, has been a financial lifeline to Taylor in exile in Nigeria. During the transition government he was managing director of the state-owned Liberian Petroleum Refining Company, from where he was able so siphon off a $1 per gallon hit to send to Taylor directly. His tenure was singled out by in a recent UN Panel of Experts report for "chronic corruption and incompetence." Yet he is now one of the most powerful figures in Liberia, and can block just about anything Johnson-Sirleaf could try to do on the Taylor front. Of course, it is not yet clear what she plans to do.

Snowe will be aided and abetted by the presence of Jewel Taylor, the forrmer first lady, in the senate, where she and a group of others on the travel ban and asset freezing list now make their home. Among them is the notorious "General Peanut Butter" and other butchers.

Johnson-Sirleaf has asked for time to handle the "delicate" issue of Taylor, and has not publicly committed to any course of action, despite strong, bipartisan Congressional requests for her to take action. She will have her hands full dealing with the merry band of thugs that continue to wield power on Taylor's behalf.

Yet, despite Taylor's ongoing influence in Liberian politics and Johnson-Sirleaf's unclear stand on requesting the extradtion of Taylor to stand trial for crimes against humanity, the US State Department continues to issue baffling statements that have little connection to reality.

Jenday Frazier, the State Department's head of Africa, said last week that Taylor "didn't influence the election (in Liberia) in any way...whether he is trying to influence or not trying to influence, he hasn't been successful in doing so."

She also stressed the commitment of the US to Taylor's extradition, but did not say what was actually being done to expedite it.

So Liberia is faced again with what is likely to be a weak government, hamstrung by Taylor's initiatives and access to corrupt gains, and the US still pretending to believe everything is on track. It is a recipie for disaster.
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