UN peacekeepers arrive in Liberia

United Nations peacekeepers were due on Wednesday to take over from west African soldiers policing a ceasefire between rebels and the government in Liberia.

The UN Security Council voted last month to deploy a peacekeeping force in Liberia, which is struggling to emerge from 14 years of almost uninterrupted war.

West African soldiers deployed in Liberia on August 4, a week before former president Charles Taylor stood down and went into exile in Nigeria, opening the way for peace talks between rebels and the government.

Those peace talks resulted a week later in a ceasefire, and the creation of an interim, civilian-led government, tasked with taking Liberia to elections.

The UN force, UNMIL, will not only police the ceasefire between the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model), and the government, but will also help disarm, demobilise, and reintegrate into civilian life former combatants in the long Liberian conflict, a UN statement said.

It will also facilitate humanitarian relief efforts, protect civilians from violence and establish conditions for the safe return of refugees and internally dispaced persons, the statement said.

The west African force already on the ground will be incorporated into the UN force, which will eventually number 15 000 soldiers and has a mandate intitially for one year.

Around 3 500 west African soldiers are currently deployed in Liberia. Nigeria has contributed the bulk of the soldiers for the force, with Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal and Togo also sending soldiers to their troubled regional neighbour.

The west African force has deployed primarily in Monrovia and its surroundings. A contingent from Benin is expected in the country shortly, but the force is too small to cover all of Liberia.

It has “successfully executed its mission ...
beginning with securing the Roberts International Airport and gradually deploying its 3 500 strong multinational force between the belligerent forces of Lurd, Model and the government of Liberia”, the UN has said of the west African force in a statement.

When it is at full strength, the 15 000-strong UNMIL will be able to cover the entire west African country, where sporadic fighting still continues, and where war-weary civilians flee on mere rumours of unrest.

The UN force will comprise not only troops from Ecowas countries but also other parts of Africa and the world at large. - AFP

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