Accessibility links

UN Resumes Disarmament of Liberia's Former Combatants - 2004-04-15

The United Nations has resumed the long-delayed process of disarmament in Liberia after an initial attempt in December was suspended amid chaos.

The first five days of the new disarmament campaign will focus on the central town of Gbarnga, a stronghold for the rebels from Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD.

The six-month campaign is aimed at disarming more than 40,000 former combatants. In the port city of Buchanan, the disarmament campaign will start April 20.

U.N. spokeswoman Margaret Novicki says she doesn't expect any problems in Gbarnga.

"We're processing 250 a day," she said. "That's in order to make sure that the camp is not overwhelmed. We're trying to keep it to a manageable amount per day so that we don't have a repeat of what happened at Camp Schieffelin."

Camp Schieffelin was the site where efforts to launch the disarmament process last December were suspended when thousands of rebels went on a rampage over what they considered low cash incentives.

There were only 5,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia at the time, and since then the force has grown to 15,000.

To prepare for this round, the United Nations has conducted a four month information campaign to explain how the disarmament process works.

A former rebel leader who is now the deputy minister for national defense, Joe Wylie, says that vocational and educational training for the former rebels is a key element of the disarmament process.

"We are going to rehabilitate these combatants and I think the U.N. has the will, the capacity to do that," he said. "Of course, the army is about to be restructured. We at the Ministry of Defense will try our best to absorb a good number of the former combatants who are qualified, who meet the criteria."

He says that many of the combatants were child soldiers and need to find employment.

The United Nations views the disarmament process in Liberia as the key to establishing peace in the country ravaged by 14 years of brutal civil war.