Sirleaf starts to form government, some appointments spark protest

Liberia's peace-time government is taking shape, with most cabinet posts and top slots filled, but some of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's first acts as president have sparked protest, not least her looking outside the country for a new army chief.

On Saturday, at a commemoration of Armed Forces Day, Sirleaf announced the appointment of Nigerian Luka Yusuf, a former commander of the UN mission in Liberia, to head the restructuring and formation of the country's army, stirring ire among some military officials.

And Sirleaf's choice for a handful of top posts, including former elections commission chief Frances Johnson-Morris as justice minister, has drawn condemnation from Sirleaf's rival in last year's presidential run-off, George Weah.

Africa's first elected female president has made her appointments for 20 of 22 cabinet posts, including women to head the ministries of justice, finance, commerce and youth and sports, as well as the national police force, the auditing bureau and a commission on refugees repatriation and resettlement.

On the military front, Sirleaf said she had sought bilateral assistance from the Nigerian government to nominate a soldier from that country to head the Liberian army as it rebuilds itself from the ground up.

At the military ceremony at the weekend Sirleaf said Liberia's security apparatus "lacks the technical and tactical capabilities and proficiency to provide for its own defence and national security."

But former soldiers are calling Sirleaf's move "a slap in the face for the Liberian army."

"There are lots of trained and experienced former army generals still roaming in Liberia and the president should have selected any of them instead of having someone from Nigeria," former Army Colonel Wolo Nagbe told reporters on Tuesday.

Former Lieutenant Eric Zubah told IRIN, "This means that [President Sirleaf] does not even trust any Liberian soldier and this is completely an insult to the Liberian army and a violation of the constitution to have a foreigner heading the national army."

Restructuring the armed forces is a key element in Liberia's post conflict reconstruction. During the civil war government soldiers and rebel fighters were barely distinguishable prompting others to welcome Sirleaf's decision to appoint a non-Liberian.

"People should understand that this country went through 14 years of bloody civil war where even the senior army guys took sides, and it was prudent on the part of the president to name a neutral person, capable of performing the task," said Major Vamplah Torzor, one of a group of 10 like-minded former soldiers gathered at the ministry of defence on Tuesday.

A special standing committee on defence and national security will scrutinise the appointment and report back to the Senate next week, according to the Senate secretary.

On the civilian side, defeated presidential candidate Weah has denounced Sirleaf's naming of the elections chief as justice minister as a "reward".

Johnson-Morris presided over the November run-off election in which Sirleaf defeated the football legend by an 18 percent margin; Weah's Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party alleged fraud.

"Emotions and sentiments expressed by Johnson-Morris during the elections were partial and based on this the opposition CDC believes Johnson-Morris is unable to administer fair and impartial justice in the country," said the CDC.

Johnson-Morris's appointment has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, which to date has approved nine ministers including Antoinette Sayeh as finance minister; Francis Karpeh as deputy finance minister for administration; and Joseph Kortoe as education minister.

Weah and his CDC are also dismayed at Sirleaf's appointment of Kabineh Janneh - a former leader with rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) - as a Supreme Court justice.

CDC spokesman Acarous Gray told IRIN Janneh's nomination is inconsistent with Sirleaf's earlier pledge that all prospective government officials' human rights records, competence and integrity would be vetted.

"If you look at Janneh, he headed the political wing of [LURD] and in 2003 when LURD attacked the city, Janneh was on the radio defending LURD's indiscriminate shelling that led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians in the city," Gray said.

"We cannot accept this man to be on the Supreme Court bench, because he has a bad human rights record."