UN recruits new Liberian police force

Liberia’s transitional government and the United Nations launched a drive on Wednesday to recruit and train a new police force, whose 3 500 officers will be untainted by accusations of human rights abuse.

Mark Kroeker, the head of a 1 100-strong UN international civilian police force in Liberia, said all applicants would be screened to ensure they had not been associated with human rights abuse or atrocities committed during the country’s 14-year civil war. The first batch of recruits would begin a 10-month training programme in July, he added.

“Anyone can apply; we are encouraging females to come forward, but in the criteria it is stated very clearly that a candidate must be free from accusations of human rights violations and crimes against humanity,” Kroeker told reporters.

Former combatants in the civil war would not automatically be excluded from the new force, Kroeker said. Some former officers in Liberia’s existing and widely discredited police force, might also be considered, he added.

The UN secretary general’s special representative to Liberia, Jacques Klein, said: “We are launching a process to recruit competent, qualified and dedicated citizens of Liberia for a police service of whom the Liberian people can be proud.

“We want the best of the best, we want diversity from across the spectrum of Liberia,” he stressed.

The Liberian peace agreement signed in Ghana last August called for the establishment of a new police force, which will ultimately take responsibility for security issues and maintainance of order when the UN peacekeeping responsibilities in Liberia come to an end.

“We will start in July, on the first Monday, when about 125 successful candidates will begin their training,” the former Los Angeles police chief said. This would consist of “three months of training, six months of in-field training and one final month of training before their final certification into the new police service”, he added.

Kroeker gave assurances that about 1 800 to 1 900 members of the new force would be ready for duty in time for presidential and legislative elections in October 2005.

The Liberian police force, which served under former president, Charles Taylor who ruled Liberia from 1997 until his enforced departure into exile in 2003, was estimated to be around 3 000 to 4 000 strong. Liberian human rights groups have accused it of illegal arrests, brutality and torture.

Kroeker stressed that he was setting out to create a new and much more credible police force which would command public confidence.

“It will be a new organisation, a new name,” he continued, “It will have new members — and possibly some of the old — but the idea is that the comprehensive peace accord called for a new police force for the future of Liberia.”

The August peace deal sigend by the former government of Liberia and rebel groups, the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, stated: “There shall be an immediate restructuring of the National Police Force, the Immigration Force, Special Security Service (SSS), custom security guards and such other statutory security units. These restructured security forces shall adopt a professional orientation that emphasises democratic values and respect for human rights, a non-partisan approach to duty and the avoidance of corrupt practices.”

The agreement promised that “until the deployment of newly trained national police, maintenance of law and order throughout Liberia shall be the responsibility of an interim police force”.

The UN early this year began the training of 500 interim police officers. Kroeker said its members would be required to submit a new application, along with everyone else, if they wanted to be considered as candidates for Liberia’s new permanent police force.

“They too would have to apply if they want to join the new police service,” he said.

Security in Liberia is currently guaranteed by a 14 000-strong UN peacekeeping force, which is supported by Kroeker’s UN civilian police.

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