Disarmament Combatants In Liberia Hangs In the Balance

By: Josephus Moses Gray

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 18, 2004

Late reports gathered from the circle of the United Nations Military Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) have revealed that the disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRR) program of combatants to the Liberia's armed conflict is likely to be delayed again until next April 2004.

According to UNMIL sources in Monrovia, the delay in the resumption of the DDRR programs until April is to afford the UN peace keepers the opportunity to be deployed across the 15 political sub-division of Liberia but it is not known if the 15,000 forces earmarked for Liberia will be on the ground by April. Presently, the UN has less then 12,000 forces in Liberia.

Despite its huge forces on the ground, the UN peace keepers are yet to take up position in eight of the 15 political sub divisions of Liberia including Maryland, Grand Kru, Sinoe, Rivercess, River Gee, Lofa, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpopu Counties. The absence of the peacekeepers in these eight counties has created a major problems for the unarmed civilians residing in these areas, as they are constantly harassed and intimidated by the rebel forces operating in the areas.

Presently, the peacekeepers are only operating in seven of the 15 political sub division of Liberia. these counties include Montserrado, Bomi, Grand Bassa, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Margibi and Bong Counties but they are yet to deploy fully in the various parts of these counties, where there are reports of maltreatment and harassment of the peaceful residents by the rebels forces.

The UN Mission in Liberia on last December 17, 2003 suspended the DDRR program and said the exercise was to resume after the holiday season on January 20, 2004 but the UN has failed to meet up with that date. According to UNMIL, this action is taken to allow for the creation of more capacity and the upgrading of living conditions at the site, where more than 8,000 former GOL combatants have disarmed. Preparations will also be undertaken to begin the disarmament of LURD and MODEL former combatants.

To the disappointment of many Liberians, UNMIL in December announced that the cardinal part of the peace process, which is the DDRR, was temporarily suspended and was to resume on January 20, 2004. The temporary suspension of the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration program (DDRRP) in December prompted public outcry, but UNMIL said the suspension was timely.

Justifying their decision to suspend the process, UNMIL’s Information Officer, Margaret Novikic dismissed rumors that there is not enough money for the program. She said UNMIL has money for every combatant who hands in weapon.

Madam Novikic said initially about three cantonment sites were expected to be opened for the warring parties, which include the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and former Government of Liberia combatants.

Against all odds, the UNMIL Information Officer said only the cantonment site for the former GOL was opened on December 7. "We targeted 1,000 combatants at a time... But the camp now is overstretched", Madam Novikic confessed.

According to Madam Novikic, the Schieffelin cantonment site does not have the capacity to demobilize 10,000 combatants at a time. She said in a demobilization camp, the combatants need to be fed, housed, given health care, and counseling.

According to her, while the exercise is suspended, the cantonment sites will be upgraded to meet the demobilization needs of the combatants. She said all of the combatants that have turned out for the DDRR process will receive the initial US$75.00.

Meanwhile, several persons spoken to have expressed disappointment and frustration over the delay of DDRR program.

Many Liberian believe that with the suspension of the DDRR program again will continue to affect Liberians residing in the leeward counties and others in the capital. The humanitarian situation in the leeward counties is very grace and desperate but both national and international NGOs cannot afford to move into these areas without the presence of the UNMIL personnel and the disarmament of the combatants.