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Progress in key areas will impact UN drawdown in Liberia, says top official

Progress in key areas will impact UN drawdown in Liberia, says top official

Ellen Margrethe Løj, Special Representative of the Secretary-General
Challenges related to security, rule of law and economic development must be addressed if Liberia is to solidify the progress made so far and the United Nations is to successfully draw down its presence there, the world body’s top official in the West African nation said today.

“The hope and tranquillity we see today is tempered by a tenuous and fragile peace,” Ellen Margrethe Løj, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Liberia, told a meeting of the Security Council today.

She pointed out that while the overall situation in Liberia was stable, recent months have witnessed several incidents of violence on rubber plantations and in diamond mining areas, as well as mob violence. Such incidents highlight the need for security sector reform in the country, which is rebuilding after a devastating civil war.

The security of the country continues to rely heavily on the presence of the police and military forces of UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which is headed by Ms. Løj. “This is clear evidence that peace has not taken firm roots and it is not yet time to declare victory and leave the country,” she stated.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a report issued last August, outlined a drawdown plan for both the military and police component of UNMIL to be carried out in several stages, resulting in 9,750 peacekeeping troops and UN police on the ground in Liberia at the end of 2010.

The plan is contingent on a number of core benchmarks, particularly relating to the Liberian National Police (LNP), military forces and rule of law institutions.

Speaking to reporters after the Council meeting, Ms. Løj noted that there are concerns among Liberians that UNMIL would depart the country prematurely, leaving behind a security vacuum. “The Mission is trying to assure the public that the drawdown is taking place so as to minimize threats to the security of the country and also to deal with any serious disruptions,” she stated.

The drawdown plan, Ms. Løj pointed out in her briefing to the Council, “is intended to provide the time and space needed for Liberia to build up its own police and military forces and progressively assume full responsibility for national security.”

Progress is being made, although slower than expected, in the training and restructuring of the new Armed Forces of Liberia, Ms. Løj reported, adding that any further delays will prevent the new army from becoming fully operational before late 2009, and impact on the timeline for UNMIL’s drawdown.

The reform of the LNP “constitutes a bigger challenge,” she stated, emphasizing the need to focus on improving the quality and professionalism of the officers, enhancing management and providing the LNP with the equipment and resources required to perform effectively.

Deficiencies in the justice system – including lack of adequate funding, shortage of qualified personnel, lack of infrastructure, low salaries and corruption, pose another major challenge – stated Ms. Løj, adding that many Liberians have little confidence in such as system.

“Liberians do not trust the system. They do not trust the Liberian police. They do not trust the justice system, and they are all too quick to return to the civil war mentality of fending for themselves,” she told journalists.

She also highlighted the need for economic growth, particularly to reduce the high unemployment rate, which poses a “serious security threat.” Crucial in this regard will be implementing the country’s new national poverty reduction strategy.

To address gender-based violence in Liberia, UNMIL and the UN Country Team are supporting the Government in finalizing the national gender policy. The Government has also developed a national action plan against gender-based violence to deter and prosecute rape cases and approved a new rape law.

In a related development, Ms. Løj and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have jointly commissioned a peace park in a suburb of the capital, Monrovia, in recognition of the contributions of former UN envoy Alan Doss to the rebuilding and prosperity of the country.