Individual and Voluntary Disarmament: A Contravention to the Peace Accord

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 5, 2004

According to published reports from IRIN, a United Nations news organ, "…two of the three factions in Liberia said on Friday they had begun disarming their own fighters voluntarily, before the planned resumption of a UN-supervised disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation program this month".

According to this report, "General Boi Blejeu Boi, the military commander of the Movement of Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), told IRIN on Friday that his forces had voluntarily disarmed all its fighters in the Sinoe, Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh and Maryland counties of Southeastern Liberia". He said his group was demonstrating its commitment to peace, adding that the peace process has reached "an irreversible" point.

Another general, Roland Duo, "a senior frontline commander of forces loyal to the former government headed by Charles Taylor", told reporters that his group had carried on a voluntary and independent disarmament of their fighters. He was quoted as saying: "We are keeping those arms we collected from our boys for the United Nations Mission in Liberia to take delivery of them any time they wish…"

On the surface, the actions undertaken by these groups, as admitted by their respective leaders, seem to be the right thing to do – in the name of peace, of course. For those seeking a peaceful resolution to the turbulent crises which have engulfed the country for nearly two decades, this indeed seems to be a step in the right direction.

That perception is indeed far from the truth. What these groups claim to have done is a blatant and clear breach of the peace accord signed in Ghana last year, giving birth to the present national transitional government.

Why do I unequivocally claim that these actions mentioned heretofore are in contravention to the accord? Let's take a brief look at the document which serves as the living contract. For the sake of brevity, we shall only examine the part dealing with the specific issue at hand - not its entirety.

· Part Three of the document already referred to herein begins with Article VI, namely: Cantonment, Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (CDDRR).

All the parties that were signatories to the convention agreed to ensure: "prompt and efficient implementation" of a national process of CDDRR. The prudent reader will observe that these activities referred to as CDDRR are a package.

· The document also clearly states: "The International Stabilization Force shall conduct the disarmament of all the parties, including paramilitary groups.

So far, it has already become clear that for any of the parties to the agreement to specify any one item which it will individually and unilaterally choose to enforce is a violation.

· …all forces shall withdraw from combat positions to cantonment locations in accordance with the withdrawal and cantonment plan to be published by the International Stabilization Force and the NCDDRR…

· All arms and ammunition shall be placed under constant surveillance by the ISF.

· The JMC shall verify the reported data and information provided by the GOL, the LURD and the MODEL about their forces. All forces shall be restricted to the declared and recorded locations and all movements shall be authorized by the JMC and the ISF

Again the prudent reader must wonder: Since the GOL and MODEL claim to have unilaterally carried out disarmament among its forces, how was the cantonment process carried out. Where are the former fighters that were disarmed? Why were the required roles of the ISF and the NCDDRR ignored? Was the decision to ignore the established procedure a simple case of naivety or a calculated strategy designed to benefit themselves in the long run? The latter is more probable, in my opinion.

How difficult is it for these folks, simpleminded as they may be, to realize that the agreement calls for "all arms and ammunition shall be placed under constant surveillance by the ISF"? Was this General Roland Duo acting individually or upon orders from the Ministry of Defense, which happens to still be headed by the old crew? Do they all, including the Minister of Defense, claim to be unaware of the stipulation?

· All combatants shall remain in the declared and recorded locations until they proceed to reintegration activities or training for entry into the restructured Liberian armed forces or into civilian life.

· The ISF is requested to deploy to all disarmament and demobilization locations in order to facilitate and monitor the program of disarmament.

· There shall be an interdisciplinary and interdepartmental National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (NCDDRR), to coordinate DDRR activities.

· The NCDDRR shall comprise representatives from relevant NTGL Agencies, the GOL, LURD, MODEL, ECOWAS, the United Nations, the African Union and the ICGL.

· It shall oversee and coordinate the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of combatants, working closely with the ISF and all relevant international and Liberian institutions and agencies.

It is clear so far that the "generals" and their factions have chosen to ignore the requirements stipulated by the agreement they signed. These violations or contravention to the accord must not go unchallenged - to do so will be to undermine the fragile peace process.

This issue of "Disarmament" has haunted concerned Liberians for sometime now as is evidenced by a piece written another Liberian, Brownie J. Samukai under the title: "Disarmament And Demobilization Towards A Civic Oriented Mission". In part., this is what Mr. Samukai wrote: "Programs for Disarmament and Demobilization should be designed to provide technical dexterity to former combatants, and the skills acquired should be used in the reconstruction and rehabilitation process. These programs may also provide skills and strategies in income-generating activities as part of the reintegration process. Such investments may ensure better prospects for the future of thousands of disarmed combatants, as well as other youths".

An important aspect and purpose for disarmament is the future well-being of the ex-combatants. Is this a concern for Generals Blejeu and Duo? Or are they sending a message that their ex-combatants are expendable? Shouldn't these "generals" be concerned about the welfare of their fighters, instead of just stockpiling weapons and inviting the UN to come and pick them up? Is that what "disarmament" entails?

Going back to Mr. Samukai's piece, he continued: "The fundamental perquisite for the success of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs is the overwhelming presence of a credible International Intervention Force or UN Peace Keeping Force. This perquisite ought to be non-negotiable, given the history of previous programs in Liberia, and the lack of credibility of the leadership of the warring parties. The legacy of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration in Mozambique and East Timor is evident that the international community must be sufficiently engaged in this process."

He concluded thus: "Never rely on warring factions to voluntarily disarm their instrument of power. This would be a recipe for a failed D&D process. Warring Factions must be evidently disarmed concomitant with the life-span of the Transitional Government to guarantee the success of the Liberian political transition without arms."

It is impressive to note that Mr. Samukai was speaking from a position of immense experience. He is not only a former Special Assistant to the Minister of Defense, Deputy Minister of Defense for Operations, and Deputy Minister of State for Presidential Affairs among others, he is also presently (at the time of the writing) a UN Field Security Coordination Officer in Tanzania.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report Dated 3 November, 2003. From its introductory statements comes the following: "The decision by the UN Security Council to return peacekeepers to Liberia offers the best opportunity the country will have to become a normally functioning state again. On 19 September 2003, the Security Council, under Resolution 1509, established the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) with compulsory (Chapter VII) powers to restore peace. The mandate is comprehensive, tough and intended to be backed by 15,000 peacekeepers and 1,115 international civilian police, of whom at least 200 will be armed to assist in the maintenance of law and order. Once it is at full strength, UNMIL will be the largest and most robust UN mission in the world…"

Good as the foregoing may sound to Liberians in general and the civilian population in particular, this is apparently bad news for the ex-warring faction leaders who have seized every opportunity to test the resolve of the UN mission. Why, because it serves their own selfish motives to rule by fear and intimidation. This we must not stand by and watch.

First, the so-called Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) under the dubious leadership of Sekou Damate Conneh challenged the UN mission's directive to disarm under the terms of the accord. In response the group has refused to disarm until the UN is willing to pay a certain amount of cash in exchange for its arms. It is such a preposterous idea to try to exploit the same people who came to rebuild the country. But apparently individuals like Conneh will do anything for personal gain – in the name of liberation, they claim.

After LURD's refusal to disarm, comes the news that MODEL and the GOL have unilaterally disarmed without any verification and completely outside of the established guidelines. As has already been pointed out, the report reiterates the mandate of the document signed in Ghana. This is what it had to say: "The Accra peace accord calls for creation of a National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (NCDDRR), as was done in Sierra Leone, to provide policy guidance on and coordinate all DR activities. It is to include representatives from the interim government, LURD, MODEL, ECOWAS, the UN and the International Contact Group for Liberia."

Liberians of all walks of life, no matter where they may reside, are all integral stakeholders when it comes to matters affecting our country. We have a responsibility to stand up to the crooks (under the guise of liberators) who want to play by a different set of rules. As the old sports analogy goes: "You can't change the rules in the middle of the game". It is to the interest of all Liberians to have a smooth and productive program allowing for cantonment, disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, reintegration and possibly, repatriation. The ex-warring factions must play by the rules or suffer the consequences.