UNMIL Faux Pas
By: Ezekiel Pajibo
December 19, 2003
The decision by the United Missions In Liberia (UNMIL) to suspend the disarmament of militias in Monrovia until late January is most unwelcome news for Liberians who are anxious to rid their country of the thousands of weapons in the hands of individuals who would shoot before they ask questions or think. The fact that the disarmament process would not re-commence until after the holidays certainly will make Liberians more cautious in their desire to celebrate during the festive seasons. This is a huge damper. The reasons provided by UNMIL for why the suspension is necessary is indeed practical but the questions uppermost in the minds of most peace-loving Liberians is why didn’t UNMIL know this prior to the announcement of a date for disarmament? One need not ponder this question for the answer is easily available. It is the state of intelligence of UNMIL that is culprit in this case.
UNMIL had projected that 400 militia would be disarmed a day and so the relevant preparation to attend to that number was put in place but once the disarmament began, thousands showed up and UNMIL was most unprepared for the deluge. What is more, the incentive package made available was found to be unacceptable by those who were willing to trade in their weapons. This was followed by three days of protest by militia members believed to be part of exiled dictator Charles Taylor’s military outfit. By the time the protest ended, at least 9 Liberians were killed; several stores and homes looted while fear and uncertainty stalked the land.
UNMIL must be commended for the, albeit, belated respond in bringing the situation under control. The imposition of curfew, which was rescinded in a few days, did recover some of the Liberian people’s confidence in UNMIL’s ability to keep the peace. The quick return to a semblance of normality is welcome and appreciated. However, with the suspension of the disarmament process, Liberians are again at a loss as to whether the international community will succeed in delivering the desired peace and some are even wondering whether UNMIL is capable of delivering at all.
These are not misplaced misgivings. Yet, we need to be mindful that the task of bringing peace to a country that has endured 14 years of civil war is no small feat. Lest we forget and in spite of all the difficulties, our streets have 4,002 less weapons. There is no doubt thousand more guns are out there, especially in other parts of the country, where rebels still hold sway. However, we can take solace in the fact that about 8,000 combatants voluntarily presented themselves for screening. This is a real indication that most armed persons may be willing to turn in their weapons and are anxious to begin a new and more dignified livelihood.
The interregnum between now and the new date for disarmament should be used to fully prepared for the effective disarmament and demobilization of the various fighting forces. This additional opportunity means that UNMIL should enter into genuine partnerships with Liberian organizations and the Liberian government to ensure full and responsible participation by the Liberian people. We cannot allow the past mistakes associated with the December 7 disarmament to distract us from the real goal of building a just and durable peace in Liberia. (See previous columns about what exactly needs to be done.)