Government wants more women to join new police force

Gyude Bryant, the chairman of Liberia's transitional government, said on Monday he was disappointed at the low number of women applying to join the country's new police force and appealed for more female candidates to come forward.

The UN international police force in Liberia began training an initial batch of 150 police cadets on Monday, but only 10 of them were women.

Bryant said at a ceremony to mark the start of their 10-month training course that this was "disappointing."

"The police is not only for men," he said. "I urge our women to stand up and join the new police force. There is no shame in service to your country."

Mark Kroeker, the UN police commissioner in Liberia, said the new force should be more equally balanced in terms of gender. He urged Liberian women's groups to encourage more females to enlist.

"We do want more women in the service. We need them and let them come up," said Kroeker, a former Los Angeles police chief.

Liberia's old police force had a reputation for corruption and brutality. It became little more than an appendage to the fighting forces of former president Charles Taylor during the country's 14-year civil war which ended last year.

Jacques Paul Klein, the UN Special Representative in Liberia, said that under Taylor policemen had simply become "agents of state terror."

Some elements from Taylor's police have been kept on and retrained by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to serve in an interim police service under UN supervision, while a completely new police force is trained from scratch. Members of the interim police service are eligible to join the new National Police Force and the first intake of cadets included 50 of them.

Kroeker said between 1,800 and 1,900 members of Liberia's new force would be fully trained and operational by the time the country holds presidential and parliamentary elections in October 2005.

"We will have the finest police service. They will be respectful, compassionate and of service to the Liberian people," he said.

Kroeker said the new recruits would represent all the different regions of Liberia and would be thoroughly screened to make that they had a minimum high school education and no record of human rights abuse.

During Taylor's rule from 1997-2003, local human rights groups accused the police of arbitrary detention and torture and extrajudicial killings.

The new police service is due to reach its full strength of 3,500 within two years.