News and Information

Liberia: DDR Commission Rejects October Deadline for Completing Disarmament
September 7, 2004

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

September 7, 2004
Posted to the web September 7, 2004


A government commision overseeing the disarmament of former combatants in Liberia has rejected a UN statement that the process must end in October. It said on Monday that the campaign must go on for longer in order to mop up all the weapons still held by the warring factions in remote areas of the country.

"The National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Rehabilitation, set up by the Transitional Government does not agree to the recent pronouncement by the UN Mission in Liberia to end the disarmament programme on October 30", Moses Jarbo, head of the commission, told IRIN.

Jarbo said neither the government, nor Liberia's three warring parties who are represented on the disarmament commission had been notified of the October 30 deadline before Jacques Klein, the head of the UN mission in Liberia (UNMIL), announced it last Wednesday.

Jarbo said he worried that the disarmament programme, which has so far demobilised more than 71,000 people claiming to be former combatants, would "run into trouble" unless it were allowed to run on for longer.

He noted that UNMIL had yet to open a planned disarmament camp for fighters of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel movement at Voinjama in Lofa county in the far northwest of the country and another for rebels of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) at Harper in Maryland, near the southeastern border with Cote d'Ivoire.

"We cannot disarm in those two key counties alone in two months time. The rainy season is on and many roads in the interior are inaccessible. We need enough time," Jarbo stressed, describing the October 30 deadline imposed by Klein as "unrealistic and unilateral."

Brigadier Joseph Owonibi, the deputy commander of UNMIL's 15,000-strong peacekeeping force in Liberia, announced in late August that disarmament would only finish at the end of December. But a week later, Klein brought the deadline forward by two months.

Clive Jachnik, the head of UNMIL's disarmament programme in Liberia, declined to comment on Jarbo's refusal to go along with the latest UN timetable. "I have no reaction to this," he told IRIN.

Speaking to journalists on 1 September, Klein said that any Liberian found carrying unauthorised weapons after October 30 would be arrested and prosecuted.

UNMIL made a false start to the disarmament programme in December last year before relaunching it in April.

The number of people who have already come forward to register for demobilisation is already double the UN original estimate of 38,000.

But critics of the programme say many of those reporting for demobilisation are simply civilians seeking to cash in on the US$300 resettlement allowance offered to each former combatant. They point to the fact that fewer than one in three of those reporting for disarmament has actually handed in a weapon.

Jarbo declined to set an alternative date for ending disarmament, saying only: "The relevant parties must agree to it."

"Coming out with a deadline on disarmament must be done through a process of consultation among all stakeholders including the commission, warring parties, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and the UN where a consensus can be reached," he told IRIN.

UN Security Council Resolution 1509, which came into effect a month after an 18 August 2003 peace accord ended 14 years of civil war in Liberia, mandated UNMIL "to carry out voluntary disarmament and to collect and destroy weapons and ammunition as part of an organized DDRR programme."

But it would be impossible for UNMIL to prosecute any former combatants who refuse to disarm without the cooperation of the power-sharing transitional government, which is preparing Liberia for fresh elections in October 2005.

The exact date when disarmament will end is important for relief agencies that plan to start the repatriation of more than 300,000 refugees from other West African countries on October 1.

Many of these are expected to head for LURD-controlled Lofa county, where the Voinjama disarmament site is only due to open on Wednesday.


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