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Protest against re-appointment of Daniel Chea as defence minister

More than 150 Liberian government soldiers staged a protest demonstration on Friday against the re-appointment of Daniel Chea as Defence Minister in the new broad-based transitional government, claiming he owed them more than two years of pay arrears.

The protestors, some of whom were in uniform, gathered outside the Defence Ministry in Monrovia shouting abuses against Chea, who was named Defense Minister by former president Charles Taylor when he came to power in 1997.

They complained that Chea had failed to pay most government soldiers, giving priority to an elite force, the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) at the expense of the regular army.

Theft and looting by unpaid soldiers became the norm under Taylor's notoriously corrupt administration.

"When Chea was Minister of Defence under Taylor, he did not seek the interest of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) which is by law the legitimate national army of this country," Major Nathan Sieh, one of the protestors told IRIN.

"There is no guarantee that Chea will seek our interest this time. The AFL went more than two years without pay," he added.

"Chea sat down and saw all financial and material benefits that were due to the soldiers diverted to the ATU," Sieh complained.

The ATU was a presidential elite guard that was privately recruited and trained by Taylor. It was commanded by his feared son, Chucky Taylor.

Chea was nominated to become Defence Minister in the new government, led by businessman Gyude Bryant, by Taylor's National Patriotic Party (NPP).

Under the terms of an 18 August peace deal, the NPP and Liberia's two rebel movements each have the right to name five ministers in Bryant's 21-member cabinet.

The protest was the second against proposed appointments to the transitional government. On Thursday at least 75 journalists working for the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), staged another protest against the re-appointment of another Taylor loyalist, Allison Barco as head of the station.

Barco was notorious as a key figure in Taylor's propaganda machine and the journalists complained that he had not paid their salaries for 18 months. Earlier this month, several LBS journalists told IRIN privately that they had been forced to ask money from the people they interviewed in order to generate an income.

Like Chea, Barco was nominated by the NPP to retain his post in the new administration, which is due to prepare the way for elections in 2005.

Bryant has asked all the various nominees to government posts to begin work immediately, subject to their confirmation by Liberia's interim parliament.

This 76-member body comprises the nominated representatives of the NPP, two rebel movements and other political parties and civil society groups that attended the peace talks in Ghana earlier this year.

Taylor orchestrated Liberia's 14-year civil war, but he stepped down under international pressure on 11 August and went into exile in Nigeria. His successor Moses Blah kept Taylor's ministerial team in place until he handed over the presidency to Bryant on Tuesday.

The United Nations said meanwhile it had postponed an exploratory mission to Lofa County in northwestern Liberia. The rebel-held area has been off-limits to relief workers for four years. An inter-agency mission was due to have visited the town of Voinjama in Lofa County by helicopter on Thursday.

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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