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Fanfare Greets Liberia's US-Trained Army


In Liberia, fanfare has marked the graduation of the latest batch of newly trained army soldiers. The training, which is partly funded by the United States, aims to give technical skills to the new soldiers as well as coach them in their responsibility to safe-guard human rights. During Liberia's decade-plus civil war, both the national army and rebel factions were guilty of gross human-rights abuses. Naomi Schwarz has this story from Dakar, with additional reporting from Prince Collins in Liberia.

At a graduation ceremony for 500 newly trained soldiers of Liberia's Armed Forces, a speaker reminds the new troops the Liberian people will be watching their actions closely.

During the war, Liberia's army was one of the warring factions. A report from U.S.-based Human Rights Watch lists the atrocities they, along with other forces, committed, including killing men, women and children, torching huts with elderly and sick people inside, torturing and starving prisoners, and stealing and looting from Liberians.

Liberia's government, with U.S. government funding, is conducting extensive training to ensure the new army does not repeat the abuses of the past.

Liberia Defense Minister Brownie Samukai says Liberia will hold its soldiers to high standards.

"We hold you responsible. We will not tolerate any level or any action of indiscipline while in service, be it in the military barracks or at home," he said. "Any Liberian who finds you conducting yourself in a manner that shows disrespect to the flag should report and we will take the necessary action to ensure that only the best and the best remain shall remain in the Armed Forces of Liberia."

Former rebel leader Prince Johnson is now a member of the Senate. He says international training is not enough.

"When I first came to the army many years ago, we saw many young men who were given international training, international standards, and later on they lost sight of the vision and they push away the constitution, they oppressed people, they became a regime army and everything changed for the worse against the people of Liberia," said Johnson.

But he says he is encouraged by what he sees of the new army.

The new recruits say they joined the army to have a first hand role in ensuring their country's peace.

Comfort Rey says she enlisted to help protect other women.

"Because what the past what happened in our country, the women were victims," she said. "So I think we the women soldiers decided to put our country back together. "

Since Liberia's civil war ended in 2003, the peace has been enforced by foreign soldiers under United Nations leadership, as well as a reconstructed Liberian police force. The army training is being conducted by the Virginia-based private security firm Dyncorp. The company has also received U.S. government contracts to train police in Afghanistan and Iraq.