Klein says recovery will take four to five years

The United Nations Special Representative for Liberia, Jacques Klein, has predicted that it will take at least four years to put the war-torn country back on its feet.

"Reconstructing Liberia and bringing back security and stability there will take four to five years," the former US air force general told reporters in Conakry on Tuesday after a meeting with Guinean prime minister Lamine Sidime.

Klein was visiting Guinea as part of a tour of Liberia's neighbours. This is aimed at cementing peace in the country following the signature of a peace agreement between the Liberian government and two rebel movements on 18 August.

Klein said the enormity of the destruction caused by 14 years of near constant civil war in Liberia should not underestimated because former president Charles Taylor had spread violence and instability to the entire region.

"Because of the former president's [Taylor] willy-nilly determination to get to power, 85 percent of all Liberians are today living below the poverty line, with tens of thousands living in exile", Klein said.

An estimated 73,000 Liberian refugees have fled to Guinea.

Klein said that because of Taylor's support for insurrections in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire, over eight million weapons were now circulating illicitly in the region.

Guinea's relations with Liberia turned sour after the government in Conakry accused Taylor of sending rebels across the border in 2000 to launch and uprising which was rapidly crushed.

Diplomats say Guinean President Lansana Conte has since been a staunch supporter of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel movement, whose leader, Sekou Conneh, lives in Conakry.

Klein met President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone on Monday and discussed with him the possibility of reopening the closed border with Liberia to facilitate the work of humanitarian agencies. He was expected in Cote d'Ivoire on Thursday.