UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
LIBERIA: UNMIL says 26,000 disarmed so far
MONROVIA, 12 May 2004 (IRIN) - The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) said on Wednesday said nearly 26,000 fighters had been disarmed so far by international peacekeepers, but with the disarmament programme yet to extend into rural areas, the total number likely to come forward was still unknown.
Major General Joseph Owonibi, the deputy commander of UNMIL, said no target had been set for the number of fighters that the UN was aiming to disarm in Liberia.
"The only time we will be able to give a figure is at the end of the disarmament," he said.
UNMIL estimated late last year that Liberia's three armed factions had a total of 38,000 combatants, but subsequent official estimates have fluctuated up to 60,000.
Clive Jacknik, the head of the UN disarmament programme, told a news conference in Monrovia that since a false start to the exercise in December, a total of 25,961 combatants from the country's three warring groups had been disarmed. The disarmament programme was relaunched on a more organised footing in mid-April.
"So far, as of yesterday [Tuesday] which was operational day 27 since the 15 of April, 12,385 combatants were disarmed in Liberia during the second phase of the DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation) programme. Taking the previous case of December, that brings the number to 25,961," Jacknik said.
UNMIL tried unsuccessfully to launch a disarmament exercise in the capital Monrovia in December. However, rioting by former government soldiers demanding cash up front for handing in their weapons and the failure of the single cantonment centre created at the time to cope with demand, forced the United Nations to put DDR on hold for four months.
Four cantonment sites are now operational, but well-informed Liberians in Monrovia have told IRIN that some non-combatants are colluding with former fighters to take part in the DDR programme in order to claim the US$300 resettlement grant payable to all those who demobilise.
Genuine fighters have been giving these non-combatants weapons and ammunitition to hand in as they register themselves at the cantonment sites, they said.
Despite Onwobi's reluctance to estimate the true number of former combatants, Moses Jarbo, the head of Liberia's disarmament and demobilisation commission, said there could be up to 60,000.
"The commission, along with the political leadership of the former warring factions, unanimously believe that the figure being represented by the UN is under-estimated. As the disarmament progresses, we would suggest working around a figure of between 55,000-60,000 ex-fighters," he told IRIN.
Jacknik said that of the 12,385 disarmed by UN peacekeepers since 15 April, 8,710 had already been discharged from the four cantonment sites for reintegration into local communities.
He also reiterated that plans were underway to create additional disarmament centres in remote parts of rural Liberia where there are believed to be more fighters waiting to disarm.
"We have plans for new sites in Liberia in order to cater to more outland areas where there is case load of former warring factions members who wish to come into the DDR process," Jacknick said.
General Owonibi said the number of peacekeeping soldiers on the ground was moving to closer to the authorised strength of 15,000 and the force would soon be deploying into as yet unsecured areas near the southeastern border with Cote d'Ivoire.
"Our ceiling is 15, 000 troops, so far we have been able to reach a figure of 14,127 troops...we are still looking at doing further deployments in Harper and some parts of Nimba County," Owonibi said.
Nimba County and Harper, the provincial headquarters of Maryland County, both contain large numbers of fighters who have yet to be disarmed.
Nimba was formerly a stronghold of forces loyal to the former government of Charles Taylor, while Harper is a key base of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) rebel group.
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