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Cablegate: Liberia: Relations with Sierra Leone Increasingly Warm

VZCZCXRO1275
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHMV #1139 2711551
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 281551Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY MONROVIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9280
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS MONROVIA 001139

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O.12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR SL LI
SUBJECT: LIBERIA: RELATIONS WITH SIERRA LEONE INCREASINGLY WARM

1. (SBU) Summary: Sierra Leonean President Ernest Koroma used the
opportunity of his first official visit to Liberia to strengthen
ties between the neighboring democracies. End Summary.

2. (U) On his first foreign trip since taking office, Sierra
Leone's newly-elected President Ernest Bai Koroma made a quick visit
to Liberia September 21 as part of his initiative to foster
cooperation among the Mano River Union and ECOWAS community. Media
report that during his meeting with Liberian President Sirleaf he
vowed to strengthen border patrols and work with international
organizations to control the illegal movement of weapons in the
region. President Koroma, who was expected to fly to Burkina Faso,
arrived in Liberia two hours behind schedule and departed
Robertsfield just before dusk on board the Presidential plane
provided by Burkina Faso.

3. (U) The two presidents signed a joint statement pledging to
support peace and strengthen bilateral ties, foster trade, and work
to support peace through the promotion of good governance and
democracy. Both Presidents agreed that they will not allow their
countries to be used by dissidents to attack the other, nor will
they facilitate safehaven for dissidents. The presidents agreed the
ultimate goal of a continent-wide African Government will have to be
pursued incrementally through sub-regional economic groupings.
President Sirleaf accepted President Koroma's invitation to pay a
reciprocal visit, but no date has been set.

4. (U) The visit was President Koroma's first abroad since his
assumed office and indicates that Sierra Leone's relations with
Liberia are reaching a new level. There is an expectation that
relations between Liberia and Sierra Leone will become warmer with
the election of President Koroma. Koroma reportedly visited Liberia
several times during his campaign to raise funds from members of the
Sierra Leonean community.

5. (SBU) A staffing change is likely at Sierra Leone's embassy in
Monrovia as the current ambassador and his team are members of
former President Kabba's Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP).
Sources at the Sierra Leone Embassy say Liberia-Sierra Leone
relations have warmed to the best level in several decades.

Repairing Close Historical Ties
-------------------------------

6. (U) Sierra Leone established an Embassy in Monrovia in 1961,
after gaining independence from Great Britain. Formation of the
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Mano
River Union (MRU) in May 1975 further enhanced relations. On
November 12, 1985, Liberian dissidents led by former army general
Thomas Quiwonkpa invaded Liberia from Sierra Leone and briefly
seized control of Monrovia. In response to the invasion, President
Samuel Doe temporarily closed the border with Sierra Leone and
relations between the two countries remained strained until Doe's
death in 1990. The Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) in
1990 marked an improvement in bilateral relations but Sierra Leone
soon became a haven for Liberians opposed to Charles Taylor in the
1990s. Attacks by Liberian dissident groups based in Sierra Leone
led to a further deterioration in relations. Taylor's ascent to
power in 1997 and formation of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)
further exacerbated tensions resulting in the official closure of
the border and the cessation of legal trade and commerce. Official
bilateral relations resumed only after 2003 and there has been
constant improvement since President Sirleaf's inauguration in 2006.


BOOTH

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