Creditors cut off Liberia's mail

By Jonathan Paye-Layleh; BBC West-Africa Correspondent
© BBC World Service

KLM aircraft
KLM is one of the airlines boycotting Liberian post

Liberia, which is already suffering under United Nations sanctions over alleged links with rebels in Sierra Leone, is now faced with another sanction - on mail leaving and coming into the country.

International postal bodies and airlines have imposed the embargo because of Liberia's inability to pay its huge debts to those companies.

They include the Universal Postal Union, the Pan African Postal Union, Ghana Airways and the giant Dutch airline, KLM.

Liberia owes KLM alone around $250,000 in carriage fees.

Two-month backload

KLM has now asked Ghana Airways, the only international airline making regular, weekly flights to Liberia, to stop picking up Monrovia's post.

The West African aircraft used to collect postage items from Monrovia and pass them on to KLM since the European airliner does not fly to Liberia.

On Tuesday, a consignment of posted materials, including letters and parcels which had been stuck in Ghana for more than two months, was returned to Monrovia as an apparent indication of the seriousness of the embargo.

Decade-old debts

Liberia owes huge sums of money to the other companies, including more than $50,000 to Ghana Airways.

These debts, which were in part incurred by President Charles Taylor's Government, have been outstanding for more than 10 years.

They concern hundreds of items which were posted at high cost through the fast courier system of the Liberian Postal Ministry, the Expedited Mail Service.

In May Ghana Post Company Limited informed the Ministry of Posts in Liberia about the decision that it had reached with others to impose an embargo on mail from and to Liberia.

'Drop in the desert'

But because the public was never told about the blockade, letters have continued to pour into post offices in Liberia.

An official at the Postal Ministry, D Zotawon Titus, said the government was addressing the situation.

He said that since May the government has paid around $20,000 to companies it is indebted to.

"This may sound like a drop in the desert, he said, "but if previous governments and ministers had started tackling the problem, we wouldn't be owing so much."

Alternative delivery services, such as DHL and Federal Express, are too expensive for ordinary people.

Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 22:16 GMT 23:16 UK

uploaded by: Robert W. Kranz  2002