With the entire country of Liberia secure, it is a good moment to move the focus from security to economic development, a senior United Nations official said ahead of the upcoming closure of the UN Mission there.
“People need jobs, people need development, and this is the next phase of challenge for Liberia,” said Waldemar Vrey, Deputy Special Representative for Political and Rule of Law for the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
Speaking to UN News ahead of the 31 March closure of UNMIL, Mr. Vrey said that Liberians should be confident that their country will continue to prosper after UN peacekeepers are gone.
“I think the biggest support that we provided to Liberia was to establish the platform for peace and stability in the country. Now it’s really a peaceful environment. There’s freedom of access everywhere and it’s a good moment for the focus to move away from security because it’s established there,” he said.
UNMIL was established in October 2003 to restore peace after two civil wars in Liberia, which resulted in more than 25,000 people being killed and 1.5 million forced from their homes.
Pointing to early mission reports, Mr. Vrey called the situation “really difficult” in the early years. Sixteen-thousand military blue hat were deployed along with police and civilian component to bring order to Liberia’s 15 states.
The conflict was fuelled in part by warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, who would be sentenced by a special court in The Hague to 50 years in prison for charges that included terror, murder and rape.
The civil wars were also infamous for child soldiers who numbered in the tens of thousands, many abducted from their families.
“Our presence brought an immediate sanity to the environment,” Mr. Vrey said of UNMIL’s early years.
He praised the way in which the peacekeepers conducted themselves over the years in accordance with law, and neutrality that the UN maintained throughout the peace efforts.
In addition to the civil wars, Liberia also battled an Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2015.
“Over the years you build this relationship. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not always easy to be received so warmly given the scenario that was in front of us. But I also give credit to all the peacekeepers that have served,” Mr. Vrey said.
The official closing of the mission will take place this week in Monrovia. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed will be among the high-level officials attending the event.