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UN Says Liberia Needs External Support


The United Nations says Liberia needs to focus on economic development to ensure the country continues redeveloping peacefully after more than a decade of civil war. To help with this task U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is requesting that the United Nations extend the mandate for its peacekeeping force in Liberia for another year. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

The U.N. deputy special representative of the secretary-general, Jordan Ryan, says the United Nations is pleased with the progress Liberia has made since the end of its civil war. But he says the country is not quite ready to continue the process on its own.

Ryan says the government and international community need to work together on economic development.

"The more that the economy can turn around, the more that there are jobs for everyone, then you have less of an opportunity for any factions or any dissident faction to get any hold," Ryan says.

He says the secretary-general wants to ensure that this process does not get derailed for any reason.

"Post-conflict states often slip back into conflicts within a very short time after peace arrives. So we all are at work here in Liberia to make sure that the Liberian story is a far happier story than that," Ryan says.

He says instability in neighboring Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire, and the still fragile situation in post-conflict Sierra Leone also pose risks for Liberia's recovery.

With more than 14,000 soldiers and additional civilian, local staff and volunteers, the U.N. mission in the country is one of the world's largest. Liberians say they are grateful for this high level of involvement in their country.

George Barbeen, the president of the Press Union of Liberia, says this international support is still crucial for Liberia.

"We are actually going towards peace, but peace is not yet around. And we hope that the United Nations Security Council will continue to extend the mandate of UNMIL until there is this realization that indeed we have no more threats," Barbeen says.

Analyst Rolake Akinola, of the British-based think tank Control Risks, agrees that the work of the Peacekeepers is not yet done. She says an increase in crime rates in Liberia and problems restructuring the police and the military show that Liberia is not quite ready to stand on its own.

Akinola says this stage of re-development can be precarious because it requires patience from the international community and Liberians.

"I think when you are implementing austerity measures, hard-hitting economic reforms, I think the initial stages can stir up a lot of opposition who might feel hard done by, by the reforms," Akinola says. "And because on the grand scale these sorts of reforms take quite a while to trickle down to the poorest levels of society."

But Akinola says there are already signs that the country is moving in a positive direction. She says Liberia's economy grew by more than seven percent in 2006, compared to around five percent the year before. And President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was elected in 2005, recently negotiated a deal for significant debt relief with creditor countries.

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