The newly appointed commander of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Lieutenant General Ishmeal Daniel Opande, has warned Liberian warring groups to strictly stick by the 18 August Peace Agreement they signed in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.
"The Liberian government and the two rebel groups must have the political will to resolve the current crisis in their country," Opande told IRIN hours after the UN announced his appointment to command UNMIL.
"The parties to the agreement have to come together and ensure that they live by what they signed in Ghana. They must ensure that the peace accord is followed to the letter," Opande said.
The two rebel groups, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) signed the agreement after lengthy talks. Apart from the government, Liberian political parties and civil society groups too signed.
The agreement demanded an immediate ceasefire. However several clashes have since occurred between LURD, MODEL and government fighters, displacing thousands of civilians. The clashes have also hindered relief efforts.
"Political leaders must have the will to end conflict. Without that political will, it will not be easy to bring peace to Liberia," Opande said on Tuesday. "The center of the Liberian crisis is that there are so many interests which must be dealt with."
Saying that ending the 14-year conflict in Liberia would be a major step in reducing conflicts in entire West African region, Opande added that there was an urgent need to focus on conflict in neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire and consolidate peace in Sierra Leone.
"Resolving the conflict in Liberia will be a major step, but this in itself will not guarantee peace in the entire region," Opande added. "If you look at the eastern side of Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire is still bubbling. We still have to work not just in Liberia, but in Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone."
Opande was named by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in a 29 September letter to the Security Council. Born in 1943, Opande graduated from the British Army Cadet School (Sandhurst) in 1964. He was commandant of the National Defence College in Kenya, before serving as Deputy Force Commander with the United Nations Transitional Assistance Group in Namibia (UNTAG) in 1989-1990.
Since November 2000, he has been the Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), which is credited with bringing peace to the West African country after a decade of war.
"I see my appointment as a big honour for me personally, honour for my country, and honour for all of us who have been involved in peacekeeping especially in Africa," Opande said. "I leave Sierra Leone with mixed feelings, but Sierra Leone has emerged from crisis and needs to stabilise and move on."
Opande was on Wednesday among UN and government officials who witnessed the re-hatting of the first UNMIL troops in Liberia. The 3,500 troops were previously serving under the West African peacekeeping force (ECOMIL) whose mandate was taken over by UNMIL on 1 October.
Opande is expected to hand over the UNAMSIL command to Pakistani Major General Sajjad Akram.
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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