Liberia: banditry, looting, shooting mar UN demobilization campaign

Surrendered weapons being destroyed

9 December 2003 – More than 2,000 former soldiers in war-torn Liberia have turned in their weapons since Sunday’s start of a disarmament campaign, but a spate of banditry, looting of humanitarian supplies and random shooting by ex-combatants seeking immediate payment of a stipend have marred the process, UN agencies reported today.

The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) said that on the first day of the campaign designed to reintegrate tens of thousands of fighters, the influx of combatants at Camp Schieffelin, the disarmament site 56 kilometres east of Monrovia, the capital, well exceeded capacity and large numbers were continuing to arrive.

“At the same time, combatants have obstructed the disarmament process by firing their weapons and threatening the security of the population inside and outside the camp,” UNMIL said in a news release. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Jacques Pail Klein said he was “deeply disturbed by the unnecessary violence.”

“It is unfortunate that a small criminal element has attempted to disrupt what is a major international effort to bring peace, security and stability to the Liberian people,” Mr. Klein said in a statement. “Instead of cooperating with the process and living up to the promises made to the people of this nation by signing the Accra (ceasefire) accord, some leaders and combatants have chosen the path of delay, disruption, intimidation and violence.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the incidents were caused by disgruntled former soldiers who expected to immediately receive the $150 stipend, part of the disarmament and training package designed to stabilize a country that is awash with small arms and armed groups after 14 years of civil wars.

UNMIL said all disarmed and demobilized combatants would now receive an initial payment of their transitional safety net allowances of $75 commencing from today, and that the intake of soldiers would be restricted to a maximum of 400 per day. Previously they had been entitled to the $150 stipend only after a three-week demobilization training programme, followed by another $150 three months later.

UNHCR said 40,000 former fighters were potentially waiting to be demobilized and reintegrated into civilian life after 14 years of fighting. At the cantonment camps, the combatants will receive health care, counselling, vocational training, schooling and apprenticeships, spokesman Kris Janowski told a press briefing in Geneva.

The incidents had led to a fresh deterioration in security, forcing UNHCR to cancel two missions to Zwedu and Harper and put on hold a relocation of internally displaced people from public buildings in Margibi County, Mr. Janowski added.

Two additional cantonment sites are set to open in the coming weeks – one in Buchanan for combatants of the rebel MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia), the other in Gbarnga for the rebel LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy). Up to 10 cantonment camps should be operational in the near future as UNMIL progressively deploys its troops around the country.

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