UN Peacekeepers Asked not to Abandon $75.00 Payment to Liberian Fighters

By Abraham Massaley

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 24, 2004

The Movement for Political Reform In Liberia (MOPRL) is pleading with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Liberia to reconsider its decision not to pay cash up front to former combatants who will hand in their guns when the disarmament process resumes some time this year.

Charles Chodo a programme and policy adviser on disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation (DDR) with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) announced Friday that the $75 cash payment handed out to fighters last year was an attempt to launch the disarmament programme and will now be discontinued.

He said former combatants will be paid after they completed the demobilization program, explaining that the $75.00 payment in December last year was just to stabilize the security situation in Monrovia when fighters rioted.

But the Reform Movement in a letter emailed to the UN Special Representative, Mr. Jacques Klein Monday said it does not see any convincing explanation in the UN peacekeeping force pronouncement for abandoning the payment of the $75.00 up front to fighters, when in fact this was the primary reason why so many fighters turned out in December to hand in their guns. "If the $75.00 payment worked in December to stabilize the situation in Monrovia, then it will also work to stabilize the situation in the entire country.

MOPRL said any incentive that motivates fighters to surrender their weapons must not be stepped aside, noting that what Liberians need right now is a gun free society where citizens can begin to return home from refugee and displaced camps in order to rebuild their shattered lives, adding "You can put in place all the fabulous programs of demobilization and reintegration, but if the fighters don't give in their gun we will continue to live under great uncertainty."

The Movement said just as faction leaders and key individuals were given the incentive to form an interim government and to participate in that government in order to get their commitment to disarm, so should the foot soldiers be given incentives up front to turn in their weapons, if indeed we are truly sincere to accelerate the disarmament process.

In the letter, the Reform Movement recalled that peace has eluded Liberia in the last 14 years, mainly because no incentives have been provided to induce those carrying guns to give up those weapons, and said the peace process may draw on beyond 2005 if the former fighters are not motivated to surrender their weapons. The movement regretted that the fundamental issue in the entire peace process (disarmament) seems to be taking a back burner.

The movement said unfortunately the disarmament process remains stalled and there is no definite date announced by the peacekeepers as to when the process will resume after putting it off at least twice. " If the disarmament process will continue to go at this pace, we are afraid that the proper security mechanisms will not be put in place on time for a free, fair and transparent general election in October 2005", the Reform Movement said, in the letter to Mr. Klein, pointing out that "political activities throughout the country such as establishing party offices and campaigning should not take place this time with guns in our midst as was the case in 1997".

The movement said by this time, no one is talking about census taking, demarcation of boundaries for newly created counties and readjustment of electoral districts given the huge shift in the population over the last 14 years.

"These are issues we need to begin to address now, but we cannot even talk about them when disarmament remains on hold," the Movement said.

MOPRL said nearly all preparations leading to the 2005 general elections hinge on disarmament which is so crucial for an "even playing field" to be created, and said that the "prolonged bloodbath" in Liberia has been due mainly to the lack of an even playing field to contest for political power. "But with this window of opportunity to settle the long standing question of national leadership, we strongly believe that all efforts must be exerted to create that level playing field for all candidates to contest in 2005" the movement said in the letter," the movement said in the letter.

The movement therefore entertained the hope that those who came to help us end this nightmare will move expeditiously to ensure that the peace process is accelerated otherwise current stakeholders will go back to Accra or other cities to negotiate another interim government while the "lives of our people will continue to be put on hold."