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LIBERIA: Rebels are slow to disarm in southeast, UN says

Monrovia, 13 October 2004 (IRIN) - Rebel fighters are proving slow to come forward for disarmament in the far southeast of Liberia because they hope to get more money by handing their weapons in over the border in nearby Cote d'Ivoire, Major General Joseph Owonibi, the deputy commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Liberia, said on Wednesday.

Owonibi told reporters that the number of fighters of the Movement for Democracy for Liberia (MODEL) surrendering their guns to the UN disarmament centre in the port town of Harper was lower than expected.

Many were hanging back because they hoped to get US$900 for handing in their arms in Cote d'Ivoire, where a disarmament campaign is due to start shortly, rather than the $300 they would receive in Liberia, the Nigerian general said.

He also complained that MODEL commanders in the Harper region were being uncooperative.

Owonibi did not say how many former combatants had reported for disarmament in Harper, since a UN disarmament camp opened there on 29 September. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) said at the time that it expected about 1,000 fighters to hand in their guns there before the disarmament programme in Liberia finishes on 31 October.

“A lot of them are eyeing the DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation) in Cote d’Ivoire. That is the truth, because we have our information," Owonibi said.

“We are actually not getting the cooperation from the local commanders," he added.

Owinibi said another reason that relatively few MODEL fighters were coming forward in Harper might be that many of those based in the surrounding district had chosen to disarm already at Zwedru, 170 km to the north, earlier on in the disarmament process.

Abou Moussa, the acting head of UNMIL, urged all those MODEL fighters remaining in the bush 15 months after the signing of a peace agreement to end 14 years of civil war, to come forward quickly.

He warned that they would not gain any benefits if they waited until the seven-month disarmament exercise came to an end on 31 October. Moussa also noted that they stood little chance of getting money for their guns in Cote d'Ivoire, since the names of all those due to take part in the disarmament programme there had already been registered.

He said UNMIL was offering them in Liberia a lot more than a straight resettlement grant of US$300.

“What we are offering as disarmament benefits in Liberia are more than the $900 that is being offered in Cote D’Ivoire, considering the educational, medical and other assistance given to each disarmed fighter here in Liberia,” Moussa said.

The acting head of UNMIL confirmed that an official programme to resettle some 300,000 internally displaced people in Liberia would start on 1 November, the day after the disarmament campaign ended.

“We hope to resettle about 100,000 IDPs back to their places of origin by the end of the year and we do know that a lot of them have been going back on their own,” he said.

Earlier this week, the UN refugee agency UNHCR declared two more counties of Liberia safe for refugees and IDPs to return to. Six of the country's 15 counties have now been cleared for resettlement.

Liberia's National Security Assessment Committee for Resettlement announced on Friday that Bong and Rivercess counties had met the minimum requirements for the safe return of refugees and IDPs.

Bong in central Liberia and Rivercess in the southeast join four other counties in western Liberia - Bomi, Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount and Margibi - which had already been given the green light.

Grand Bassa County, which lies between Monrovia and Rivercess, is yet to be declared safe, but an official of the government-run Liberian Refugees, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission told IRIN on Wednesday that an official assessment of the situation there would be completed soon.

Grand Bassa includes the port of Buchanan, Liberia's second largest city.

The UNHCR began a programme to repatriate more than 300,000 Liberian refugees from other West African countries on 1 October. About 50,000 had already returned spontaneously since the civil war ended in August 2003.

Theme (s): Conflict,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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