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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Thursday 19 May 2005

LIBERIA: Government ready to form new army

MONROVIA, 19 May 2005 (IRIN) - The Liberian government will begin the formation of a new 4,000-strong army at the end of the month after having secured the necessary funding to begin the process, deputy Defence Minister Joe Whylee told IRIN on Thursday.

Last year the US government pledged US $35 million to train a new army but wanted the Liberian government to pay off existing soldiers first.

According to Whylee, the government has now secured US $5 million of a necessary US $16 million required, to clear outstanding retirement and severance benefits to long serving soldiers and those recruited during the height of the Liberian civil war in the 1990s.

"As of the end of May, we will start paying off those soldiers recruited during the civil war and later those who had served in the army up to the outbreak of the civil crisis. This process marks the start of the army restructuring exercise," Whylee said.

The process of recruitment could begin in one month's time, according to Whylee.

"Under our plans, the entire payment scheme would last for a month and thereafter we will start the recruitment process," he said.

Anyone with a record of human rights violations will not be eligible to join the new army, though former combatants from any of Liberia's three warring factions would not be automatically excluded.

"Any one who wants to form part of the new army must be physically fit, have at least a 9th Grade education [typically up to the age of 14] and must be freed of human rights violations. Former fighters from disbanded armed factions who meet those requirements will be recruited," he said.

The government aims for one battalion of the new army to be operational in time for the installation of the next democratically elected government in January 2006.

Liberia, which emerged from 14 years of brutal civil war in 2003, is scheduled to hold its first post war general and presidential elections in October 2005.

In February, Andy Michels, a US State Department official, told IRIN that DynCorp International, a private company based in Reston, Virginia, has been contracted to carry out restructuring of the new force.

DynCorp was recently acquired by US company Veritas Capital, which specialises in security and aircraft maintenance services.

Over the past three years Dyncorp has been hired by the US government to train new police forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was also subcontracted to the UN in Bosnia where Dyncorp employees were found to have been part of a prostitute racket, buying and selling girls as young as 12.

During the civil war years, there were several proposals to restructure the Liberian army but none of them came to anything.

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 that recommended the establishment of a new 6,000-strong army but the proposal was never implemented.


This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005

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