LIBERIA: Country at most critical period in peace process – ICG

ABIDJAN, 4 November (IRIN) – The Brussels-based think tank, International Crisis Group (ICG), warned on Monday warned that the period from now until the start of disarmament in Liberia was the most critical part of the war-ravaged country’s peace-process.

In a report released on Monday, “Liberia: Security Challenges”, the ICG said the UN’s Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which should see the deployment of 15,000 peacekeeping troops, needed to be urgently supported to establish its presence throughout the country, especially in turbulent areas like the northern Nimba county.

The ICG said that it would be difficult to secure Liberia without the compliance of not only fighters loyal to former Charles Taylor, but to the two rebel movements, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL).

“UNMIL will be tested as fighters try to loot and expand their territory before the UN can spread its authority,” the report said.

According to the ICG, the LURD and MODEL forces, along with fighters allied to Taylor, now exiled in Nigeria, all have origins dating backing to the country’s first civil war in 1989 and have strong ties to one or more neighbouring states.

Despite the signing of a Liberian Peace Agreement in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, on 18 August, the ICG warned that the Liberian political climate remained fragile, with key political veterans of years of war clearly not yet committed to agreement.

“The commitment or lack thereof of the interim government to the peace process will impact heavily on attempts to stabilise Liberia,” the ICG emphasised.

The interim government was installed on 14 October and is led by businessman Gyude Bryant. The ICG said Bryant’s administration contained an unsavoury mix of nominees of the warring factions, along with some of the same politicians who were responsible for Liberia’s decline and warned there would be no easy co-existence.

“Together they are tasked with governing the country for two years. but they are pulling in different directions,” it said. “The next two or three months are an exceptionally dangerous moment as the warlords can be expected to exploit the security vacuum.”

The report said that with three peacekeeping missions along the West African coast in Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and now Liberia, the UN had a considerable opportunity to drive events and take control.

“The starting point must be disarmament of fighters in Liberia but the UN should develop an integrated approach with its three West Africa missions aimed at capturing the weapons of many fighters in Liberia – both foreigners and nationals – and tracking the movement of others in the region, especially those who escape the initial disarmament,” the ICG recommended.

“Regional stability depends largely on stopping the flow of marauding fighters who migrate from conflict to conflict. In the very near term there may be a need for coordinated international action to persuade President Laurent Gbagbo against returning to war in Cote d’Ivoire and for Nigeria to prevent Charles Taylor from resuming his mischief in Liberia and elsewhere in the region.”

The IGC asked Washington to conduct full-scale training for the new Liberian armed forces that should emerge as the former militias and private armies are disbanded, and for the United States to ensure that UNMIL is fully funded, particularly in terms of its disarmament and reintegration programme.

The ICG further recommended that the UN Security Council create an integrated structure for administering the UN mandates in the neighbouring countries of Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It also asked the Council to design and implement a plan for regional disarmament applicable to all three countries.

The full report is available here.

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