29 November 2004 Over 100,000 Liberians have turned in guns, ammunition, rocket propelled grenades and other weapons to the United Nations peacekeeping force in their country, the head of the mission said today.
“We’re now at 96,333 people disarmed, and we have another six or seven thousand in the pipeline,” Jacques Paul Klein, head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), told the UN News Service.
The Mission has already destroyed more than six million rounds of ammunition – a figure Mr. Klein described as “incredible by any measure.”
The success of the disarmament push was revealed late last month when disturbances rocked Monrovia and surrounding areas, Mr. Klein said, pointing out that only a handful of the nearly 250 people injured at the time were wounded by firearms. “If [arms] had been here at the time, they would have come out,” he observed.
Mr. Klein added that while he is not “naïve enough to think we’ve got them all,” he is confident that during the disturbances there would have been “a lot more shooting” were it not for the comprehensive disarmament effort, which involves not only collecting arms but also retraining and reintegrating former combatants.
The UNMIL chief also welcomed the return of normalcy and the Government’s recent decision to lift the country-wide curfew that had been imposed during the disturbances. If the curfew had stayed in effect for too long, it would have proved counterproductive, he noted.
Meanwhile, children separated from their families during the country’s conflict have been reuniting with loved ones in large numbers.
Of the 7,179 boys and 2,308 girls who have gone through the disarmament process – which involves housing them in separate camps and providing services tailored to their specific needs – 98 per cent have gone back to live with either their parents or other family members.
“At first I was very worried that we would have to rely on orphanages and foster homes,” Mr. Klein said. But through persistent efforts to return the children to their homes, the results have been “amazing,” he added.
Liberia’s children are also being helped by UN-led efforts to provide immunization against common diseases. Half a million Liberian children have been immunized against measles, 230,000 have been vaccinated against yellow fever, and over 830,000 were immunized against polio, said Mr. Klein, who coordinates the work of all UN operations in Liberia.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided Liberia with 10,000 school supply kits, while 13,000 Liberian teachers have been trained in emergency education orientation during two- to three-week courses, the envoy added.