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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Monday 7 March 2005

LIBERIA: Lack of funds delays formation of new army

MONROVIA, 7 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - Liberia's transitional government is desperately seeking the funds needed to disband its existing army before it can form a new national force, Defence Minister Daniel Chea said on Monday.

Chea told IRIN that the power-sharing government needed US$18.3 million to disband the current army, which has been in disarray since the start of the civil war in December 1989 when most of its senior commanders defected to rebel factions.

Putting the current strength of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) at about 15,000 troops, Chea said the funding was needed "to pay off those former soldiers who will be retired and also settle the severance benefits of other soldiers who will not form part of the AFL".

Disarmament and demobilisation of militia fighters and rebel factions involved in Liberia's 14-year civil war ended last October. The AFL, along with the two rebel factions who fought the civil war, was disarmed by UN peacekeepers and all of the rebel movements were disbanded, including militias groups loyal to Taylor.

The recruitment and training of a new broad-based national army had been set to begin in March or April but Chea said the start of the restructuring exercise had been delayed because the Liberian government are having problems finding the cash.

"According to our plans, if the government had made the money available, the first battalion of the new national army should have been ready by December," Chea said. "But this is unlikely."

Liberia's chief peace mediator, the former Nigerian head of state General Abdulsalami Abubakar, told reporters in the capital, Monrovia on Saturday that the 15-nation block of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was worried about the delay.

ECOWAS brokered a comprehensive peace agreement in August 2003 that ended Liberia's civil war.

"The new AFL is going to be trained by the Americans, but they can not come in unless the government disbands the AFL. We are looking for funding from our international partners to do that," Abubakar said.

The US government has pledged US$35 million to help train a new army but wants the Liberian government to pay off current soldiers first.

In February, Andy Michels, a US State Department official, told IRIN that DynCorp International, a private company based in Reston, Virginia, would carry out the restructuring of a 4,000-strong new national army.

DynCorp, which has just been acquired by the US venture capital group Veritas Capital, specializes in security and aircraft maintenance services. Over the past three years it has been hired by the US government to train new police forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

During the civil war years, there were several attempts to restructure the Liberian army but none of them successful.

Under the Abuja peace accord that led to a break in the fighting in 1996 and general elections in 1997, the West African peacekeeping force (ECOMOG) was supposed to retrain a new national army based on fair ethnic and geographical representation.

But Charles Taylor, who won the 1997 elections, sidelined the issue, saying the restructuring was solely a matter for the elected government. A year later his government established a commission which recommended a 6,000-strong army but the proposal was never implemented.

Then in 1999, civil conflict erupted again and plans for the army fell by the wayside as Taylor favoured his former rebel fighters, who formed militia groups that battled rebel insurgents until 2003 when a peace deal was finally imposed and Taylor fled into exile.


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