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August 20, 10

NEWS / Political, social divides threaten Liberian strides in shoring up peace, says Ban

20 August 2010 – Although Liberia continues to make considerable progress in consolidating peace and security, enduring political and social divides, among other factors, could roll back the strides made so far, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautions in a new report.

He also warns that limited gains on national reconciliation and the far-reaching perception of the prevalence of impunity are also obstacles to progress in his most recent report to the Security Council on the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia, known as UNMIL.

While the West African nation’s overall security situation is stable, it is fragile due to ethnic and communal tensions, disputes over access to land and a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, the report notes.

Rape, armed robbery and other forms of serious criminal activity, it says, continue to be prevalent, expressing concern that more than 70 per cent of reported rapes between February and August have involved victims under the age of 16.

“Relatively minor disputes continued to rapidly escalate into major destabilizing incidents,” Mr. Ban writes.

He points to the example of widespread violence in Lofa County in northern Liberia between the predominantly Christian Lorma and Muslim Mandingo communities triggered by allegations of a ritual killing and aggravated existing tensions.

Armed with cutlasses, shotguns and other weapons, the two sides attacked each other and property, including places of worship, resulting in four people being killed, 18 others sustaining injuries, and many churches, mosques and homes being destroyed.

UNMIL, along with the Emergency Response Unit of the Liberian National Police, stepped in to restore order.

In Maryland country in Liberia’s southeast, UNMIL and the national police prevented violence in April when a witch doctor identified those allegedly behind a ritual killing, leading to the arrest of 18 people – including influential figures in the area – and sparking a community protest.

“As events in Lofa and Maryland counties demonstrate, low public confidence in the State’s capacity to deliver justice frequently leads to rapid flare-ups, threatening overall law and order,” the Secretary-General notes.

He also says that although security institutions are continuing to make progress, they have yet to reach the capacity to respond independently of UNMIL, especially outside the capital, Monrovia.

“It is crucial that the development of the security sector becomes a main priority for the Government and the international community so that those institutions become independently operational, and are fully resourced,” Mr. Ban writes.

He stresses that next year’s elections will be a “critical milestone” for Liberia, testing the capacity of national institutions, and urges the Government and others to create a plan on how to take the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee forward.

UNMIL was set up in 2003 to bolster a ceasefire agreement ending a war that killed almost 150,000 Liberians, mostly civilians, and sent 850,000 others fleeing to neighbouring countries.

In this report, the Secretary-General says that he is pleased that the Government and its international partners have started planning for the eventual handover of security responsibilities from UNMIL to national authorities.

The mission has entered that its third stage in its drawdown, with the repatriation of more than 2,000 troops and dozens of armoured personnel carriers and three attack helicopters.

The police component has maintained its authorized strength of 1,375, and Mr. Ban recommends that UNMIL’s current military and police levels be maintained until after the 2011 elections, “a core benchmark for UNMIL drawdown and withdrawal.”

He also called on the Council to extend the mission’s mandate for an additional year until 30 September 2011.




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