WASHINGTON-Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. could easily resume operations at its Liberian natural rubber plantation, but won't as long as civil war ravages Liberia and makes conditions there unsafe. This was the word Oct. 11 from both BFS and David Dual Kpomakpor, chairman of the Council of State of the Liberian National Transitional Government.
Meanwhile, the Clinton administration is considering the possibility of offering incentives to BFS and other U.S. business interests in Liberia to re-establish operations and re-employ Liberians.
The Liberian transitional government was established last March as a step toward the end of that nation's civil war, which began in December 1989. The new government comprises representatives of each of the warring factions.
According to the peace plan approved last year, the transitional government was to have held elections by Sept. 7. The elections did not take place, however, because faction leaders did not keep their word to disarm their troops.
Of an estimated 60,000 combatants in the Liberian conflict, only about 5 percent have actually laid down their arms, Mr. Kpomakpor said at a press conference at the National Press Club.
BFS officials recently visited the company plantation near Harbel, about 35 miles from the capitol of Monrovia. Except for one brief interval, the plantation has not operated since the war began, and the company evacuated its employees long ago.
Despite fierce fighting in the Harbel area, company officials found relatively little damage to the Hevea trees and production facilities on the plantation.
``Firestone told us that had all fighting stopped at that time, it would take them only four or five months to start producing rubber again,'' Mr. Kpomakpor said. ``But their position is that as long as people are being killed in Liberia, they are not in a position to resume working there.'' A BFS spokesman confirmed Mr. Kpomakpor's statement.
``We are still hopeful we can return to Liberia, but not until the situation changes dramatically,'' the spokesman said. ``It's very, very sad what is happening in Liberia, and there's no assurance it will stop any time soon. The fighting just has to stop before any company can return or go to Liberia.''
As soon as conditions change, the U.S. government might offer aid to vital industries to resume operations in Liberia. But this idea is still very preliminary, according to MacArthur DeShazer, director of African affairs for the National Security Council.
``We have not made any offers to business interests in Liberia,'' Mr. DeShazer said. ``But our strategy certainly would involve taking advantage of natural resources to begin the demobilization process. We could envision striking some deal with the rubber plantations to re-employ people in Liberia.''
For most of the civil war, the BFS plantation was occupied by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, headed by the since-deposed Gen. Charles Taylor.
The interim government in Monrovia which preceded the transitional government accused BFS of aiding and abetting the general. Mr. Kpomakpor, however, said neither the current government nor most Liberians give any credence to those charges.
Since the Liberian war began, some 150,000 people have been killed and 800,000 made refugees, according to Mr. Kpomakpor.
Mr. Kpomakpor was in Washington to ask financial and logistical aid of the Clinton administration to facilitate the peace process.