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LIBERIA: Human rights group critical of "slow" peacekeeper deployment

ABIDJAN, 21 January 2004 (IRIN) - Former combatants continue to terrorise civilians in the Liberian countryside where UN peacekeeping forces have not yet deployed, according to a report issued today by the international human rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The report accuses the international community of being slow to provide the full 15,000 troops as mandated by the UN Security Council in September.

“It has been shockingly slow progress", HRW spokeswoman Leslie Lefkow told IRIN. “It has taken four to five months to get even half the peacekeeping force in place.”

“The situation has improved in the last week as 3,000 further peacekeepers have been deployed”, Lefkow conceded, “but we still need to see the full 15,000-strong force in the country.”

Speaking from Monrovia, the Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Abou Moussa, told IRIN on Wednesday: “Deployment is only one aspect of coping with curbing human rights abuses. Training and desensitization are also important components.”

Moussa acknowledged that progress had been slow early on. “But that is normal in the planning stage”, he stressed. “We now have 10,000 troops in place out of a final figure of 15,000. So if you look at us now you have to agree that we have made headway.”

Kabineh Ja’neh, Minister of Justice in the transitional government and member of the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), also defended UNMIL.

“UNMIL have to deploy internationally, this takes time”, Ja’neh pointed out. “ Many troops are coming from far-flung locations. In my opinion, so far so good - we are on track!”

Regional forces from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) began arriving in Liberia in early August.

The departure of then Liberian President Charles Taylor on August 11 helped clear the way for the UN Security Council to authorise a UN peacekeeping force for Liberia in September, though the UN did not take over peacekeeping duties from ECOWAS until October 1.

HRW carried out its investigations in October and November 2003.

According to its findings, former combatants were still carrying out human rights abuses, including looting, imposing forced labour, rape and other forms of sexual violence despite the signing of a peace accord by the warring sides that August.

Nego Parazian, a doctor with Medicins Sans Frontier (MSF), told IRIN by telephone from Monrovia on Wednesday that the situation remains unchanged. “Much of Liberia remains precarious,” said Parazian.

At the moment MSF is active only in areas where peacekeepers have already been deployed, and even there, Parazian noted, MSF is still seeing civilians preyed upon by former combatants.

Human Rights Watch warns that until all of Liberia is brought under the control of the UN peacekeepers, armed combatants will continue to terrorise civilians, raping and looting as they battle for territory and spoils.

Questionable commitment

“One could question the commitment of some of the fighting forces,” said Lefkow.

Territorial struggles and fighting were meant to have ended when the leaders of rebels Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) signed a peace accord with the former government last August after months of talks in Accra, Ghana.

Those former warring groups are all represented in a government of transition, which under the Chairmanship of Gyude Bryant, is tasked with beginning Liberia’s reconstruction and staging elections in 2005.

Ja’neh, who was LURD’s key spokesman at the long-running Accra peace talks, said on Wednesday : “We are truly committed to restoring peace in Liberia within the framework of the peace agreement signed in Ghana last August.”

Financial commitment sought from international donors

The transitional government of Liberia has prepared a development document to present to international donors who will assemble at a UN hosted meeting in New York from the 2-5 February.

A delegation from that government is expected to make the case to donors to secure funds for the reconstruction of Liberia, which has been decimated by 14 years of civil warfare. The meeting will be chaired by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and co-Chaired by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The contents of the report have not yet been made public. However, Ja’neh told IRIN :“If you were to ask me how much Liberia needs, I would say initially a US $5 billion package - that would be a good start.”


Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights



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