UN gives ex-combatants in Liberia two more months to complete disarming
With more than 71,000 ex-combatants from Liberia's 15-year-long civil war - double the original estimates - having given up their arms so far, the United Nations mission seeking to bring peace and democracy to the strife-torn West African country has given remaining former fighters just two more months to turn in their weapons.
"I encourage all combatants who are out there to disarm," Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative Jacques Paul Klein, head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), said yesterday. "Do not let people talk you out of it. You will be the beneficiaries of vocational training, education and other benefits that the disarmament program has built into it."
Mr. Klein said leaders of Liberia's three warring factions would come together on 1 November to formally announce the end of the disarmament exercise in the country. Anyone found with weapons after 30 October would be prosecuted for illegal possession of weapons under Liberian law, he warned.
He expressed satisfaction over the smooth progress of the disarmament programme, which got off to a somewhat rocky start last December when some ex-combatants demanding immediate payment of a stipend rioted. Liberia had come a long way during the last one year, he said, praising the peacekeepers, ex-fighters and ordinary citizens for the success of the programme.
"We now have our civil affairs officers stationed throughout Liberia. We have the civilian police and the military deployed throughout the country," he said. "In fact we are starting military rotations for people who have been here for a year now."
Mr. Klein also announced plans to accelerate preparations for national elections scheduled for October 2005. He said a six-week voter registration exercise would begin in April with the help of some 4,000 Liberian students hired for the purpose.
More than 16,000 international troops and police are participating in UNMIL operations to support the peace process after last year's ceasefire between former President Charles Taylor's forces and two major opposition groups, Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). They are also carrying out humanitarian and human rights missions while assisting in national security reform, including police training and military restructuring.