UNMIL Commander meets government and rebel representatives

[Liberia] Interim President Moses Blah assumed power following Taylor's forced exit.
President Moses Blah, Liberia's 22nd president (IRIN)

The Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), General Daniel Opande on Monday met jointly with representatives of both the Liberian government and the two rebel groups, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), in the capital, Monrovia.

General Opande met the warring parties amidst reports of renewed skirmishes between the government and LURD in central and northeastern Liberia.

Both parties have accused each other of renewing the skirmishes. A shootout between government and LURD fighters in Monrovia last week left several people dead.

Interim President Moses Blah claimed LURD wanted to topple him, but LURD said the government wanted to assassinate its chairman Sekou Damate Conneh.

UNMIL said the meeting was part of confidence building measures. It was held a day after the former Nigerian president General Abdulsalami Abubakar flew into Liberia to meet leaders of the warring factions.

General Abubakar mediated talks that culminated in the signing of Liberia's peace agreement on 18 August in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.

That agreement called for the cessation of hostilities and paved the way for the creation of a broad-based power sharing government that will take office on 14 October and lead the country to elections in 2005.

"We are not deterred in our march forward for peace in Liberia. The belligerent parties should now know that peace has reached a point of no-return," General Abubakar told reporters shortly after arrival in Liberia.

"I have come to receive the list of the nominations by the belligerents and government to the transitional government and we will meet with all the stakeholders in the peace process," he added.

A week to the inauguration of a new government, the rebels, political parties and civil society groups are yet to make their nominations for posts given to them in the transitional government headed by businessman Gyude Bryant. They were allocated the slots under the terms of the Accra accord.

General Abubakar was expected to travel on Tuesday to the LURD stronghold of Tubmanburg in Bomi County, 60 km west of Monrovia to meet with Conneh, a LURD official told IRIN on Monday.

Diplomats said both General Opande's meeting and General Abubakar's visit were expected to calm down the tension that has risen significantly since last week between government and the rebels.

On Monday, the government defence minister, Daniel Chea, blamed both LURD and MODEL for renewed attacks on loyalist troops in the northern Liberian county of Nimba.

"LURD and MODEL forces have never stopped attacking our positions. Right now, these two groups are attacking us in Nimba County," Chea told IRIN in Monrovia.

"The fact that LURD was in Gbarnga few days ago and now they have moved across to the St. John River to Baila town in Nimba county is an advancement against our positions," Chea added.

Baila town is 200 km north of Monrovia and is located at the edge of the St. John River that lies between Bong County in central Liberia and Nimba County in the north.

Gbarnga, a key town in central Liberia, 150 km north of Monrovia, fell into the hands of LURD rebels in July. Ganta in Nimba county, 45 km north of Baila, has been in LURD control since March. It is now being used as the forward base by the rebels.

"Because of the proximity of fighting in Baila to the Guinean border, I received information from one of our commanders there that thousands of Liberians have crossed over into Guinea. This points out the seriousness of the fighting," Chea added.

The LURD deputy secretary general for civil affairs, Alhaji Sekou Fofana, however told IRIN that the government's reports of renewed clashes in Nimba was a case of "war mongering".

"Under no condition will we fight again when [former president] Charles Taylor whom we fought to remove from power has already gone in exile. There is a ceasefire in place which LURD is strictly abiding by," Fofana claimed.

Chea accused MODEL, which controls the entire southeastern Liberia, of attacking the northeastern border town of Behwalay in Nimba County near the Ivorian border.

"Pockets of MODEL are still attacking Behwalay. We believe that these skirmishes will not stop until the United Nations peacekeepers can be fully deployed in rural Liberia," the government defence chief said.

UNMIL was created on 19 September by the UN Security Council. It will have a troop strength of 15,000 and replaced the much smaller West African force (ECOMIL) on 1 October.

ECOMIL troops from Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, were re-hatted as UNMIL troops and have been deployed in Monrovia and some parts of the northern Bong and Margibi counties.

UN Secretary-General's Special Representative to Liberia Jacques Paul Klein said last week that UNMIL hopes to achieve its full strength within three months. Several countries, including Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, Namibia, South Africa and some European nations have expressed interest in contributing troops for UNMIL.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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