Liberia: Upcoming Elections Critical for Entrenching Democracy in Liberia - Løj

The free, fair and peaceful holding of upcoming elections was critical for Liberia's emergence from its brutal civil war, but even if they succeeded, joint Liberian and international rebuilding efforts were not yet finished, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Liberia told the Security Council today.

Liberians will still require considerable assistance and support in rebuilding their lives and their country," said Ellen Margrethe Løj, who also heads the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

Presenting the Secretary-General's latest report on UNMIL, she said: "Much progress has been achieved and I trust all Liberians and international partners alike - will continue to stay the course and ensure that this progress is truly irreversible."

Mrs. Løj said Liberians had been planning all year for the presidential and legislative elections planned for 11 October, with 29 political parties organizing themselves, negotiating alliances and nominating candidates.

She further detailed that sixteen presidential candidates had been presented, including the incumbent, and more than 800 legislative candidates were contesting 88 House and Senate seats, saying "The elections provide an opportunity to consolidate the peace that Liberian citizens cherish so much," and emphasized the responsibility for all Liberians to ensure the success of the elections and the irreversibility of peace.

The UNMIL boss emphasized the Mission remained focused on its role of coordinating international assistance, filling critical logistic gaps and employing its good offices to ensure an environment conducive to peaceful elections and a secure consensus between the parties on related issues.

She added that UNMIL had also drawn up an election-security plan with national partners, and discussed contingencies with the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), "given the tendency for elections in post-conflict countries to lead to violence", she noted.

Løj noted that the pending elections are at a critical time for the subregion, recalling that the Ivorian crisis had raised security and humanitarian concerns along the border with Liberia, where a major weapons cache had been discovered in June, and revealed that Ivorian fighters and Liberians alleged to have participated in the neighbouring country's crisis posed a threat to both States.

However, she said UNMIL was working closely with UNOCI in monitoring the borders, and that Liberian security institutions had stepped up, within their limited capacities, and cooperation between Liberian and Ivorian security forces had also been strengthened.

The UN said Liberia's security agencies would not be fully operational until mobility, communications and other equipment was available and sustainable, noting that planning for the handover of security responsibilities from UNMIL to national institutions continued, but the challenges of the last few months had slowed progress.

Emphasizing that the joint transition working group would have to regain its momentum after the elections, in preparation for a United Nations technical assessment mission planned for early 2012, she said much work remained to be done in building the capacity of security institutions.

On the economic front, Løj said, the country continued to recover, a number of new economic concessions had been approved and international investment continued to increase. Important related legislation had been passed and the 2011/12 national budget was almost eight times what it had been six years ago, she added.

Meanwhile, Liberia's Foreign Minister Dr. Toga Gayewea McIntosh, who also addressed the Security Council in New York, emphasized that Liberia had seen eight years of unbroken peace, and was at a stage where growth and development could now be pursued.

Underlining UNMIL's major contributions in that context, from peacekeeping to building the capacity of State institutions, to filling critical logistical and infrastructure gaps, Dr. McIntosh said the Mission had provided basic and specialized training for more than 4,000 police officers, including at least 700 women.

Turning to the upcoming elections, the Foreign Minister said they would be a "test of the will and determination of the Liberian people to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner, void of election violence and any action to undermine the peace".

He said the lead-up to the polls, in which UNMIL had been an important partner, had been peaceful, with the Mission providing security, facilitating dialogue between parties, and helping the National Elections Commissions in terms of logistical preparedness and delivering election materials.

That partnership, he stressed, would remain vital in ensuring that the elections were fair, transparent and credible.

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