The Liberian authorities have run out of money to provide education and training for over 100,000 people who have registered as former combatants in the country's 14-year civil war, a spokesman for the country's disarmament commission said on Thursday.
“Presently, the Trust Funds for the reintegration and rehabilitation of fighters have run out. There is need for additional funding...because the disarmed fighters have exceeded the target mark of 100,000”, Molley Passaway, the official spokesman of the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration, told IRIN.
“Out of those disarmed, only 26,000 are now benefiting from skills training and formal education, but the rest are of serious concern to the commission”, he added.
Gyude Bryant, the Chairman of Liberia’s transitional government, said in September that US$44 million was still needed to pay for the rehabilitation of former combatants.
Passaway declined to quantify the present funding gap.
He said that by the the end of a nationwide disarmament exercise that lasted nearly eight months, 102,193 people who fought for former President Charles Taylor and the two rebel movements that opposed him had registered for disarmament.
All had qualified for a US$300 resettlement grant.
Passaway said the transitional government and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) had agreed with the country's former armed factions that a further 5,000 people, who would not be required to hand in weapons or ammunition, would be incorporated into the programme soon.
“We had meetings with the various factions and those were fighters that actively participated in the war...this was policy decision made by the commission”, he said.
Passaway revealed that 27,000 weapons had been handed in by the time the last cantonment site closed on 24 November - roughly one gun for every four registered combatants.
Back in February, Jacques Klein, the head of UNMIL, said he reckoned there were three weapons washing round in Liberia for every fighter.
However, the United Nations subsequently came to the view that many fighting units did not have enough guns to go round and that many combatants were forced to share their weapons with their comrades.
Critics of the disarmament programme have another explanation for the large numbers of fighters per gun. They suspect that thousands of civilians squeezed their way into the disarmament programme in order to claim the $300 resettlement grant on offer.
This is thought to be one reason why the number of officially registered former combatants is much higher than initially anticipated.
Last year, before the disarmament programme got under way, UNMIL estimated that 38,000 ex-fighters would report for demobilisation. This figure had crept up to 53,000 by the time the exercise got fully under way in April.
But more than twice that number have actually registered as ex-combatants to claim their money.
Passaway said that in addition to 27,000 guns, UN peacekeepers had collected nearly 6.2 million rounds of small arms ammunitiion and nearly 30,000 pieces of heavier ordnance, including mortar bombs.
He said 68,952 of those who registered for disarmament were adult men and 22,020 were adult women.
But 11,221 - over 10 percent of the total - were child soldiers and camp followers under the age of 18.
Passaway said 8,704 boy soldiers had been registered and 2,517 girls.
Klein said earlier this week that 98 percent of these had already gone back to live with their parents or other family members.
"At first I was very worried that we would have to rely on orphanages and foster homes," he told the UN News Service. "But through persistent efforts to return children to their homes the results have been amazing."
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