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Liberian Government Needs Funds for New Army


The Liberian transitional government says it needs about $11 million to pay severance and retirement packages to thousands of soldiers. The cash-strapped Liberian government is looking for donors.

Liberian Deputy Defense Minister Joe Wylie says the Liberian government is looking for funds to pay off 4,000 soldiers. He says he wants donors to pay for this crucial need, and that South Africa has already promised about $4 million.

The United States has pledged $35 million to train new Liberian forces, under the private security company DynCorp International, but first the payments to old soldiers have to be settled.

The spokesperson for the U.N. Mission in Liberia, Paul Risley, says that he expects training to begin early next year. He says the U.N. mission will remain in the country until Liberia can adequately deal with its own security.

"The peace-keeping force will remain in place in Liberia until suitable security can be provided by a newly trained Liberian police force and a newly trained Liberian military force," he said.

Mr. Risley says that there is already progress on security issues in the country devastated by 14 years of civil war. The police academy has recruited almost 2,000 police cadets who are patrolling the streets of Monrovia. But Mr. Risley says he is concerned because the Liberian justice system is not equipped to deal with criminals and Liberian prisons are too small and rundown to hold them.

"There continues [to be] a sense of impunity for criminals because there is still not truly a functioning court system as we have more and more newly trained police on the streets," he added. "Police are able to arrest persons, but it is very likely that people will be released by courts or released by police."

A Liberian researcher at the University of Birmingham, Thomas Jaye, who studies security issues, says that it is imperative that a new army be constructed as soon as possible because many soldiers have allegiances to former Liberian leaders, which could have a divisive effect on the country.

"You need more of a professional army that is not really tied to any government, but tied to the state and the people. And this is what many of us are now proposing," he said.

Liberia's civil war ended in 2003, when former president Charles Taylor fled into exile in Nigeria, where he has been told not to meddle in regional affairs. Mr. Taylor is accused of funding rebels, including child soldiers, in West Africa in exchange for diamonds.

About 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers have been helping Liberia's government with security and preparations for elections scheduled October 11.

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