15 January 2004 With Liberia's political and security situation improving by the day, the prospects for restoring peace are greater now than at any time in its recent past, the top United Nations envoy to the war-torn country said today.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative, Jacques Paul Klein, told a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that he believed the peace process is now irreversible despite the inevitable challenges that would arise in a country shattered by nearly 15 years of strife that spread to its neighbours and destabilized the region.
"We know that Liberia is the key to political stability in West Africa. If we fail in Liberia I need not spell out for you the consequences for the region," Mr. Klein said, calling on the international community to help the country out of its recurring cycle of violence. "It is time to end Liberia's agony and give its people the future they deserve," he added.
He said the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which already had 9,000 military peacekeepers, hopes to reach its full complement of 15,000 by the end of February or early March, "when we can do the kind of job we need to do in terms of demobilization and getting the weapons out of people's hands."
As of today UNMIL, which began its mission in October to enforce a peace accord between the Government and two rebel movements, has already demobilized more than 12,600 combatants - about a third of the total - and collected over 9,000 weapons. "So it's coming, but the sad part is many of them want to give up their weapons but we're not out there yet able to collect them," Mr. Klein added.
The process is due to resume next Tuesday after a month's break following initial turmoil when more people turned up for demobilization than could be accommodated.
A team consisting of the UN, World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), non-government organizations (NGOs) and the Liberian transitional government has been working for the past two months on Liberia's needs and will present a report to a donors' conference in early February.
These range from $400 million to $500 million over the next two years, in addition to a $170 million humanitarian appeal made in November, according to UN Development Programme (UNDP) Assistant Administrator Julia Taft. She told reporters that the United States has already committed $200 million to this effort.
"We think the credibility of the process that's gone on over the last two months is a fabulous statement of solidarity on how the Liberians want to lead this process (of reconstruction)," Ms. Taft told the briefing after a team meeting today. Mr. Klein said he had been very pessimistic two months ago about funding but was now encouraged by the commitments.