Focus Turns to Long-Term UN Force for Liberia

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT


Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - With the arrival in war-ravaged Liberia of the first West African peacekeeping troops, the focus will soon shift onto mobilizing a larger, U.N.-led peacekeeping force similar to the one that has successfully stabilized neighboring Sierra Leone.

Experts have argued that a cease-fire agreement between the Liberian government and rebel groups, as well as an effective political solution to the crisis, will not be found in the absence of a powerful U.N. force.

The U.N. says discussions have started with several South Asian and African governments, including India, Pakistan and South Africa, about possible contributions to such a force.

Some of these countries currently have troops in the U.N. mission in Sierra Leone, known by the acronym UNAMSIL, whose mandate is expected to end in December 2004.

It remains to be seen whether some UNAMSIL troops will cross the border into Liberia to join Nigerian troops now in the capital of Monrovia or whether the U.N. will set up a new force.

The head of UNAMSIL, Kenyan General Daniel Opande, has confirmed to reporters that his troops are ready to take up a new role in Liberia if called upon.

A Security Council resolution approved Friday authorized a multinational force to help restore peace in Liberia, which has strong historic links with the U.S.

The U.N. subsequently confirmed that a force of similar size to the 17,000-strong UNAMSIL force will replace the 3,000 or so West African peacekeepers, ideally by October 1.

The U.N.'s assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, Hedi Annabi, said he expected troops in Liberia to face similar problems to those faced in Sierra Leone, which was devastated by civil war in the late 1990s and 2000.

He cautioned that the troops would need to be well trained ahead of the Liberian deployment, recalling incidents in which Sierra Leone rebels kidnapped hundreds of African peacekeepers shortly after arriving there.

"We should not be rushed unduly into deploying forces [in Liberia] that are not ready because it will come back to haunt us, as it did in Sierra Leone."

Liberian civilians have welcomed the Nigerian peacekeepers, as have the government of President Charles Taylor and the two rebel groups fighting to overthrow him.

The warring sides have undertaken to cede their positions to the peacekeepers.

A U.N. tribunal in Sierra Leone has indicted Taylor for his alleged role in promoting the civil war there.

Nigeria has also offered him asylum, and on Saturday, he undertook to step down on August 11.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker indicated in a statement Tuesday that the U.S. would hold him to his word.

"The resignation and departure from Liberia of President Charles Taylor is essential to restoring peace in Liberia," he said.

Reeker also said it was essential for all Liberian forces to stop fighting and respect an earlier cease-fire.

Aid groups are hoping the Nigerians' arrival will facilitate the distribution of urgently needed humanitarian supplies.

The British-based charity Save the Children has flown 30 tons of food and medicine to Liberia, spokesman Brendan Paddy said, adding they would be moved from the airport to safe sections of the capital as soon as possible.

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