Former warlords formally dissolve factions

The heads of Liberia's three factions on Wednesday signed an agreement to dissolve their movements' military wings and do away with violence, paving the way for them to stand at next year's elections.

"The parties also acknowledge that having ceased to exist as military forces in Liberia, they shall not own, use or carry any weapons, instrument or machineries of war and shall not engage in the use of force," the agreement said.

The former government of ex-president Charles Taylor, as well as two former rebel groups -- Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) -- all promised a peaceful future in a ceremony in the capital, Monrovia, which came three days after the UN-led disarmament programme officially ended.

"Today, we who have fought each other have now forgotten the past, and say ‘No more shall we fight’," Lewis Brown, a former foreign minister under Taylor told reporters.

Liberia was wracked by a war between various armed factions from 1989 to 1996. A peace deal paved the way for elections held in 1997 and won by Taylor. However, war broke out again in 1999 between pro-Taylor forces and LURD. In early 2003, MODEL began operating in the east of the country.

In keeping with a peace deal signed in August 2003, the three groups are now free to transform themselves into political parties to contest the next general election. A broad-based transitional government is working to lead the war-scarred nation to the ballot box in October 2005.

Taylor's former government already has a political party, the National Patriotic Party, through whom Taylor came to power in elections during a break in the civil war in 1997.

Sekou Conneh, representing LURD at the signing on Wednesday, said his group, which held sway in the north of the country near the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone, was considering forming a party for the elections.

"In this regard, we are holding discussions," he said.
However, the second and smaller rebel group MODEL, which controlled much of the south-east near the Cote d'Ivoire border, ruled out that option.

"There are many parties already. We have an economic reform program, we are going to look at all of the presidential candidates and whoever we feel has this country at heart, MODEL will support that person,” said Thomas Nimely-Yaya, head of the group and the current foreign minister in the transitional government.

Liberia currently has 18 registered political parties and around 30 people have already declared their intentions, as independent candidates or on parties’ tickets, to contest the country’s presidency next year.

Several West African leaders had been expected to attend Wednesday's ceremony in Monrovia but stayed away after riots there last week that killed 18 people and wounded hundreds more.
Some diplomats and residents blamed the recent unrest on rebel remnants who seized on a small-scale market dispute to push their own agendas.

Ordinary Liberians have urged the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to conduct immediate house-to-house searches for weapons after some of the arrested rioters -- like former senior LURD commander, Philip Kamara -- were found to have arms hidden in their homes.

The official disarmament programme in the heavily-forested nation officially finished on Sunday, with more than 95,000 people taking part. However only 27,000 rifles were handed in, roughly one for every four people.

UN envoy Jacques Klein said on Monday that peacekeepers would carry on disarming former fighters in the remote north and south-east of the country because impassable roads had made the process difficult during the rainy season and there were still caseloads of combatants in these areas.

But he warned that anyone found with a weapon outside these targeted areas would be arrested and prosecuted under Liberian law.