26 October 2012

Liberia: Joint Security Must Stop Arms Smugglers

When UNMIL's acting head, Mr. Louis M. Aucoin recently honored 1,500 Nigerian peacekeepers with service medals, he assured that Liberia's security remains a top priority and that UNMIL will ensure that everything is put in place before a final pull out.

"Liberia's stability will remain UNMIL's top priority while we work with the government and partners to map out a critical path towards a complete transition," he assured anxious Liberians Monday.

But there already is growing insecurity in Monrovia and its environs as UNMIL undergoes a gradual drawdown, creating fears amongst the population to wonder about what to expect when the inevitable--final departure of peacekeepers--comes.

He rightly said UNMIL soldiers and police were re-doubling efforts in re-enforcing the capacity of Liberian security agencies, which, we believe, do not yet have the full capacity to handle security issues in the country.

Arguably, the quelling of riots and protests in and outside Monrovia has required UNMIL assistance through intelligence, logistics, personnel or otherwise, to bolster the meagre means of national law enforcement agencies.

Isn't it then opportune that by now UNMIL evaluate the security sector reform process and specifically pinpoint the gaps needed for bridging by government before the final departure of the peacekeepers?

This is necessary in order to build on the gains already achieved, especially in the security sector. We are worried that alarming behaviors of criminals nowadays to unsuspecting residents overwhelm them with more anxiety when they are reminded about the final pull out of UNMIL, a reality that is fast drawing nigh.

The snatching of handbags from female pedestrians by speeding motorbike riders during broad day light has become rampant in Monrovia and commercial hubs like Red Light and Duala, needless to mention Wasterside and Broad St.

Agents of the NSA, acting on tip-offs, last week arrested a man in the Red Light vicinity with a single barrel shotgun along with more than 3,000 rounds. The man admitted smuggling the gun and huge quantities of ammunition to hunt bush animals. Where? In Monrovia?

The man, charged with smuggling and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, apparently trafficked his illicit goods from neighboring Guinea where locally-made single barrel pistols dangle at the waist of virtually every motorbike rider.

Apparently, without government restrictions, hundreds of blacksmiths make single barrel pistols in many Guinean towns and villages for sale to willing buyers for personal projection, according to market women shuttling in cross-border trade.

A radio phone-in crime watch program last year reported the arrest of a woman in 72nd community with two 100-lb bags full of single barrel rounds. But she was never charged or prosecuted after saying a passenger from Guinea left the bags for safekeeping; but she did not ask to know their content.

Besides machetes (cutlasses), assailants during nighttime have continue to use single barrel pistols to frighten, wound grievously or kill their victims before stealing their belongings.

In fresh reports Wednesday night, criminal assailants, using cutlasses and single barrel pistols and shotguns had a field day in Barnersville Township, where they seriously wounded several residents and took away their valuable belongings.

Some of those wounded were taken to nearby health centers for treatment, according to the crime watch nighttime radio program.

Dozens of other armed robberies in several parts of Monrovia and its environs that left victims wounded and valuables stolen in the past fortnight preceded the bold attacks in Barnersville after the thunder storm Wednesday night.

Now, as UNMIL continues to build the capacity of our law enforcement agencies, the onus is on them (Liberian security forces) to engage in more intelligence gathering and appropriate action taking.

We need not alert them to gather more intelligence on the proliferation of small arms in our neighboring countries, against which security must be tightened to foil the entry of illicit weapons and ammunition into Liberia, which is still under UN arms embargo.

We believe the Joint Security forces must mandate all security agencies, including the Police, NSA, NBI, Immigration, Drug Enforcement Agency as well as concerned citizens to ensure that illicit weapons do not enter this country, where gun ownership is legitimized by license.

Too many lapses are observed at checkpoints on our highways and byways, where security officers stop commercial drivers and other operators, instruct them to report to nearby offices, after which you see the drivers moving away without the contents of their vehicles being checked at all.

This is no denying fact. That is happening on all our trunk highways with dozens of checkpoints. Which security agency can answer how a single barrel gun and 3,000 rounds safely evaded dozens of checkpoints to arrive at Red Light before NSA agents picked up the smuggler upon a tipoff? More vigilance is a must, please!

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