Ambassador tells of Liberian woes

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Thu, Jul 24, 2003 - Page 1

Chen Yeong-cho (陳永綽), Taiwan's ambassador to conflict-ridden Liberia, yesterday said Taipei is doing all it can to retain diplomatic ties with the African nation.

He declined, however, to reveal details regarding these diplomatic efforts.

"We'll do everything we can and these efforts are ongoing," Chen said yesterday afternoon.

Chen is currently in Taipei until Sunday to report back to the ministry, the first trip he has made to Taipei since Liberia lapsed into a civil war two months ago.

Chen, who returned to Taiwan from Ivory Coast, said ethnic conflict and the gap between the rich and poor are the key factors that triggered the ongoing internal conflict in Liberia.

Chen, along with some embassy staffers, took shelter early this month in Ivory Coast because of escalating tension in Monrovia. He said he expects to return to Monrovia once an interim government is set up in Liberia.

According to Chen, some 42 Liberians have expressed their willingness to lead a yet-to-be-forged interim government following a truce between the government and rebel forces.

But wire service reports said that fighting between the government and rebel forces continued for a fourth day yesterday near the Liberian capital.

The ambassador declined to clarify the extent to which Taiwan has made contact with the rebels, nor would he talk about Beijing's efforts in contacting the government and rebel forces in Liberia.

Chen said Liberia currently faces "a very serious humanitarian crisis," as the influx of refugees into the capital has reached some 100,000, desperately seeking food and shelter in the current rainy season at a time when foreign aid agencies have withdrawn because of security concerns.

Chen said the government currently has no plan to start any humanitarian aid to Liberia, but welcomed private sector efforts in Taiwan to help ease the humanitarian crisis.

Chen, whose residence in the outskirts of the Liberian capital was looted by rebel forces, said he needed to "do some shopping" in Taipei as all of his suits and clothes were gone.

His wife carried only her purse with her when she drove a truck to the embassy upon hearing the sound of shelling, Chen said.

He also said his wife was "frightened" as she joined several Taiwanese in an evacuation move arranged by French special forces.

"The first time she embarked on a helicopter [in Monrovia], she had French special forces holding rocket launchers next to her," Chen said.

The French-led evacuation included 535 people from 38 countries.

Also see story:

Rebels in Liberia keep up the pressure in Monrovia