Over 25,000 Ex-Combatants Disarm, …Humanitarian crisis hits Lofa

By: I. Solo Kelgbeh

The Inquirer
Monrovia, Liberia

Distributed by

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted May 13, 2004

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) says over 25,000 ex-combatants from the three warring factions (LURD, MODEL & ex-GOL), have so far disarmed since the commencement of the DDRR program in the country.

In an exclusive interview with The INQUIRER newspaper yesterday, UNMIL’s Chief of Public Information and spokesperson, Margaret A. Novicki said, all is going well with the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRR) of the former combatants.

Madam Novicki iterated that the disarmament process has been sailing smoothly due to the cooperation of the warring factions including the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and ex-GOL, and the successful sensitization exercise about the DDRR. She said a total of 25,415 ex-combatants have disarmed from December 7, 2003 up to May 11, 2004.

She said since the resumption of the exercise on April 15 up to May 11, 2004, 11,840 ex-combatants disarmed in Gbarnga, Buchanan, Tubmanburg, VOA and Kakata.

The UNMIL spokesperson maintained that all of the parties are cooperating as their commanders’ full participation in the sensitization process of the DDRR clearly indicates their commitment so far.

Giving a detailed statistics on ex-combatants at the various cantonment sites, Madam Novicki said from April 15 to May 10, 2004, 4,574 persons disarmed in Gbarnga; from April 20 to May 10, 2,063 persons disarmed in Buchanan; from April 25 to May 10, 3,923 gave their arms to UNMIL in Tubmanburg, while 1,280 disarmed in Kakata from May 6-10, 2004.

The UNMIL Chief of Public Information declined to say as to when the voluntary disarmament exercise will be over, saying “details were being worked out for the erection of additional cantonment sites in other parts of the country.

“As I speak to you now, the technical details are being completed for these sites to be built. Although I can’t tell you now as to where they will be erected, things are being worked out for the successful implementation of the DDRR”, Madam Novicki in a joyous mood said.

According to initial report submitted to the International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL), UNMIL is to disarm over 40,000 ex-combatants from the three warring factions. If the international community is not misled, then UNMIL has already disarmed over 50% for the fighters.

UNMIl began the DDRR process last December 7, 2004 but called off same to put into place what the mission termed as “proper mechanism”.

The exercise resumed on April 15.

Meantime, fighters in Voinjama are anxiously awaiting to be disarmed. During our reporter’s visit to that city last Friday, the soldiers said they were tired of fighting.

They praised UNMIL’s Information Section for what they termed “complete dissemination and sensitization” information on the DDRR.

According to them, UNMIL has really educated them on the process involved in the DDRR.
In spite of the enthusiasm the DDRR has been receiving, the humanitarian crisis in the provincial capital of Lofa County seem to be worsening daily.

Last Friday, the head of the medical team of the Pakistani troops in Voinjama, has warned of serious human catastrophe if relief groups do not go to the aid of the people.

According to Maj. Khalid Hussain Asad, the health needs of the people have temporarily been attended to by the Pakistani troops. However, he said other groups need to come in to assist in some areas.

Maj. Khalid made the statement when he spoke to journalists during the end of a three-day medical campaign in Voinjama.

Over 4,000 persons from villages and towns in and around Voinjama were treated and fed by Pakistanis. Maj. Khalid said the most urgent need of the people is the availability of potable water.

Most of the patients that were seen at the Catholic Compound in Voinjama (Where the Clinic was) are suffering from water-borne diseases, malaria and other skin diseases.

Earlier, the commanding officer of the Pakistani troops (PakBATT), Lt. Col. Raza Ghullam assured all local and international NGOs that Voinjama is safe for their operations.

He called on them to come and save lives by rendering humanitarian assistance to the people of Voinjama.

© 2004: This article is copyrighted by The Inquirer newspaper (Monrovia, Liberia) and distributed by The Perspective (Atlanta, Georgia). All rights reserved.