United Nations peacekeepers in Liberia and Ivory Coast are boosting security on both sides of the border ahead of Liberian presidential elections.
Liberia's Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday on the applicability of a residency requirement that could disqualify up to six presidential candidates, including the incumbent, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and her top rival, Winston Tubman.
The threat of that political upheaval just two weeks before election day adds to security concerns in a young Liberian democracy with instability along its western border.
Ellen Margrethe Loj is the U.N. special representative for Liberia. She wants to boost her peacekeeping force with troops from the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast, which is known as ONUCI. “We have been discussing with our sister mission in ONUCI whether they could strengthen the mission here in Liberia during the election period just like we strengthened our sister mission in Ivory Coast last year during the elections in Cote d'Ivoire,” she said.
A dispute over the Ivorian elections led to a political crisis that killed at least 3,000 people and drove more than 170,000 Ivorian refugees into Liberia, where many are still living in camps and villages along the border.
ONUCI troops and Ivory Coast's new army are stepping up patrols on their side of the border after the government in Abidjan blamed a series of attacks this month on “Liberian mercenaries.”
The Economic Community of West African States says it is concerned about banditry along the border and the flow of small arms and light weapons through areas populated by refugees and displaced civilians.
In Liberia, Loj says officials understand the security challenges along the border, and U.N. troops will do their part to ensure a violence-free vote. But Loj says a peaceful election depends primarily on Liberians themselves.
“You have had eight years of unbroken peace in Liberia. Now it is up to all of you to show that you are steadily on the road toward sustaining that peace and developing your country. You do not want to go back to violence,” Loj stated.
Liberian security services are deploying a specially-trained joint operations force for the vote that includes police, the fire service, immigration officials, criminal investigators and the drug enforcement agency. National police spokesman George Bardue says the force will monitor Liberia's borders during the vote and take steps to prevent post-election violence.
“We have been training on how to control riots, how to control crowds. We do not expect any violence, but when it happens we will respond and we will behave professionally,” he noted.
Bardue says a peaceful vote begins not with security services but with how political parties instruct their supporters. So the joint force is working with politicians to prevent violence.
“We put in place what we call a code of conduct between the national police and the political parties that is a preventative measure. Political parties believe that it is important for us to keep this election peaceful,” Bardue stated.
Despite a brief court-ordered halt to campaigning, Liberia's presidential vote is still scheduled for October 11th with a second-round run off in November if no candidate wins more than half the ballots.