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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

LIBERIA: UN rethinks disarmament programme

MONROVIA, 7 January 2004 (IRIN) - The United Nations said on Wednesday that it was reassessing the way it would conduct its planned disarmament programme in Liberia, following a false start in December.

The acting head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Souren Seraydarian, told reporters that this time the UN peacekeeping force was determined to conduct the disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation of an estimated 40,000 former combatants in a more controlled and organised manner in close cooperation with Liberia's three warring parties.

"We are working together with all the parties concerned as well as the government in assessing the outcome of the disarmament so far achieved and the ways to improve the security and safety during the next phase of the disarmament". Seraydarian said.

He refused to say whether UNMIL would stick to its previously announced target date of 20 January for resuming the disarmament process, saying only that it would begin "once we have completed our assessment."

UNMIL started to disarm fighters loyal to former president Charles Taylor at a barracks near Monrovia on 7 December, but was forced to abandon the exercise 10 days later after former combatants rioted in the city to demand cash for handing in their guns. At least nine people were killed during three days of disorder and looting.

UNMIL subsequently agreed to pay former fighters a $75 advance on their $300 rehabilitation allowance as they surrendered their weapons, but the demobilisation camp then found it overwhelmed by people rushing to hand in guns and claim the cash.

Serayadarian said that when the disarmament programme restarted it would be a much more planned and disciplined process.
"When we start the disarmament exercise, the commanders will be accompanying their units in an organized manner to the disarmament sites with their units not exceeding 200-250 persons a day in order to avoid to prevent some of the occurrences that happened before," he said.

Seraydarian said that despite the problems experienced in December, UNMIL had been able to register 12,000 former combatants and collect 8600 weapons.

The deputy head of the United Nations mission said the relaunch of the disarmament process would require an adequate deployment of UN peacekeeping troops to ensure security.

It would also require the commanders of the former government army and LURD and MODEL rebel movements to become closely involved in making sure that their troops fully understood how the process worked, he added.

There were only 5,000 UN troops on the ground when UNMIL first tried to launch the disarmament programme in December, but since then a further 3,300 have arrived, enabling the peacekeepers to extend their deployment into the rebel-held interior of Liberia.

Major General Joseph Owonibi, the Deputy UN Force Commander, said the force planned to deploy troops near the border to prevent weapons being moved into neighbouring countries during the disarmament exercise.

"We have been able to select the areas where we want to deploy and the purpose is to put troops as close to the border as possible. We talking of areas like Zorzor (on the northern frontier with Guinea) so that they can monitor the borders...we have to be very effective along the borders," Owonibi said
LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) was strongly backed by Guinea during the 14-year civil war which was brought to an end by a peace agreement in August.

Diplomats say MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia), which controls most of southern and eastern Liberia was backed by the government of Cote d'Ivoire. There have been reports that both movements have been moving heavy weaponry towards border areas.

Owonibi said that as of Tuesday, UNMIL had 8,350 troops on the ground in Liberia. The force is due to reach its full strength of 15,000 men by the end of February.

Since 27 December, UNMIL has been deploying troops into territory controlled by both rebel movements. It now has garrisons in the LURD-held towns of Kley Junction, Tubmanburg and Gbarnga and the MODEL-controlled towns of Buchanan and Tapeta.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict

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