France angrily denounced today the raid on its embassy in Monrovia by Liberia's new military rulers, calling it a "flagrant and unacceptable violation of the status of diplomatic missions."
Yesterday's raid, which appears likely to undermine Liberian efforts to reestablish normal relations with African and Western countries, resulted in the arrest of the eldest son of William Tolbert, the president assassinated by the military in its coup April 12.
In a communique, the French Foreign Ministry said it had granted asylum to Adolphus Tolbert, about 45, after the coup because of "the extreme gravity of the situation and for evident humanitarian reasons."
[Liberia asked France to withdraw its ambassador in view of his actions "clearly incompatible with his diplomatic status," Reuter reported from Monrovia.]
Tolbert's arrest ended a two-month nationwide search by the military for the U.S.-educated attorney, plantation owner and political scion of the late president.
Coming on the heels of brutal post-coup executions, the arrest could revive the barely diminsihed international anger at Liberia's new military government, particularly if the government succumbs to likely domestic pressure to execute Tolbert.
Other West African governments, in a policy led by the new civilian administration in Nigeria, have expressed increasing antagonism to military governments that seize power in bloody coups. This breaks with African practice of remaining silent on events in neighboring states.
Among the few countries maintaining close contacts with the new military rulers in Liberia have been the United States and Guinea, ruled by revolutionary leftist President Ahmed Sekou Toure.
Toure, who was a close friend of the senior Tolbert, and the U.S. government, which has a long history of close ties to Liberia, apparently are trying to prevent Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi from wooing the new rulers with promises of substantial military and economic aid.
The timing of Adolphus Tolbert's arrest seems particularly bizarre as Liberia's new head of state, Sgt. Samuel K. Doe, is scheduled to meet here in the Ivory Coast Monday with Guinea's Toure. Ivory Coast President Felix Houphouet-Boigny and President Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone. Tolbert's fate will be a particularly sensitive issue as he is also the son-in-law of Houphouet-Boigny, the host of the meeting.
Adolphus Tolbert is the last of the most-wanted members of the widely disliked family that for years monopolized political power and commercial interests in Liberia. Tolberts were leaders of the now, deposed ruling class of Americo-Liberians, descendants of the 19th century former American slaves who established the country.
Presient Tolbert's brother Frank and the popular former foreign minister, C. Cecil Dennis, were executed on Arpil 22 with 11 other former officials following hasty trials.
A week later, in response to African and other international reaction to the executions, Doe announced that there would be no more executions.
This brought an initial patching up of relations with Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast, whose leaders had close ties to Tolbert. More recently, however, Liberia's relations with Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria, black Africa's most powerful state, has soured.
Doe met with Stevens in Sierra Leone yesterday in what was interpreted as an effort to avoid exclusion from participation in the upcoming Organization of African Unity summit that begins late this week in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
It was not known here whether Doe had returned to Monrovia in time for the attack on the French ambassador's residence.
Last month, the Liberian delegation to the 16-member Economic community of West African States meeting in Lome, Togo, was excluded from participating after Doe, 28, arrived.
Togolese protocol officials reportedly were offended when Doe wore camouflage Army fatigues and a pistol on his belt. A month before, a Liberian delegation led by new Foreign Minister Gabriel Baccus Mathews was refused permission to land at Lagos, Nigeria, to attend to Organization of African Unity economic meeting.
Nigerian President Shehu Shagari in a Lome-press conference following Doe's expulsion from the conference there, said he was "opposed to the wanton execution and humiliation" that Tolbert's family and members of his government were subjected to following the coup in Monrovia.
Doe had arrived at the conference on Guinean President Toure's personal plane.
A high-level delegation from the United States, led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Richard Moose, visited Liberia early this month.
Shortly after the April coup, Libya's Qaddafi sent a special envoy to offer Doe significant arms aid, reports from Washington indicate. According to the same reports, Doe has taken a wait-and-see attitude toward Libya.
As part of the revolutionary philosophy, Qaddafi has tried for years to create an Islamic, Pan-American movement under his leadership. Diplomatic sources speculate that Qaddafi will try to use his oil wealth to become a major influence in economically trouble Liberia. Although largely Christian, Liberia has a Moslem population estimated at 10 to 20 percent of its 1.8 million people.