United Nations forces have deployed across the capital of Liberia to restore calm after sectarian violence sparked widespread looting and destruction.
The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) issued a strong warning to rioters who attacked innocent civilians and burned houses of worship, business centres and residences in and around Monrovia.
Jacques Paul Klein, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UNMIL chief, ordered UN police and military troops to all affected areas and to react "with maximum force" to any violence directed against civilians and property. UNMIL's Quick Response Force also fanned out in the capital, and nearly 90 people have been arrested.
In a live announcement on UNMIL Radio, Mr. Klein said the Mission will enforce a curfew declared by Gyude Bryant, Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), applicable to all residents of Monrovia. "Any unauthorized individuals seen outdoors during the curfew hours will be presumed to be trouble-makers," Mr. Klein said.
The envoy, who also sent out a video message for broadcast, called for an immediate end to the violence and said UNMIL would "firmly deal with any individuals or groups" that engaged in violence and wanton destruction of property.
Mr. Klein issued a special appeal to elders and religious leaders to intervene immediately and join UNMIL in ending the violence. Religious leaders, who are widely credited with advocating an end to the war, were reported to be preparing a joint statement urging calm.
Disturbances first began Thursday night in suburban areas of Monrovia and spread overnight to other places. UNMIL initially responded to the violence by deploying its civilian police and formed police units to disperse groups of looters. It later stepped up its response and used tear gas as the situation escalated and larger groups became involved.
While the exact cause of the violence is unknown, the conflict reportedly started between market vendors in Paynesville, on the outskirts of Monrovia, where the mostly Muslim Mandingos have been trying to establish themselves, UNMIL spokesman James Boynton told the UN News Service.
"The conflict arose between marketers and we believe that some of the criminal elements have leaped on board to take advantage of the situation," he said, noting that Christian and Muslim religious leaders had reported that mosques and Jehovah's Witnesses churches had been burned.