7 January 2013

Liberia: AFL Widows Demand Over U.S. Five Million

An internationally brokered peace agreement ended the first phase of Liberia's senseless civil war in 1995. By then, the national army, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), had reduced itself to one of five competing factions represented in the transitional government. The peace agreement simply called for disengagement, disarmament, reintegration, and resettlement of all combatants and the subsequent holding of a presidential election through proportional representation. Unfortunately, the Taylor administration did not allow the DDRR process to go ahead. Through reverence for the sacrifices of some AFL officers and enlisted men, however, the Sirleaf Administration and the administration of the National Transitional Government (2003-2005) before it, agreed to provide some recompense for kin of documented AFL soldiers and officers dead or missing in action (MIA) during combat for the state. The administration says it has met its promise. However, not only are the kin disputing the claim but also their demand has become recurrent and as their number grows. With Nathaniel Walker, The Analyst reports.

As estimated 3,765 Liberian women claiming to be widows and daughters of AFL MIAs, last week, began an indefinite sit-in-action on the sidewalk opposite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which houses the offices of the President of Liberia.

The sit-in-action, which observers say is actually a siege of the president's office, is part of the group's recurrent demand upon the government.

Last year the group, along with other AFL interest groups, blocked the main Greater Monrovia-Sinkor thoroughfare, demanding to meet with the president. The meeting with the president resulted in certain understanding and concessions, the details to which this paper is not privy.

The Sirleaf Administration might have met the terms of the concession or dismissed it as a non-priority, as no part of its 2012/2013 annual national budget contains appropriation for compensation for kin of MIAs.

Speaking with our reporter Friday, the group's spokesperson, Madam Vivian B. Mulbah, said they were staging the action to remind President Sirleaf of their dead husbands' and fathers' benefits and the Christmas and New Year package she promised them in November 2012.

She said they were staging the siege in demand of more than US $5.0 million government owed them. According to her, each widow or child of an MIA is entitled to US $1,500, neglecting to say how many MIAs there were and whether the expected recipients qualified as family heads or individual family members.

"Though, the oldma has been seen us sitting on this sidewalk for the past days and has done nothing, we will continue to come here as early as 6:00 am daily until she makes a stop and address us since her protocol would not allow us to see her," the spokesperson said.

Spokesperson Mulbah recalled that their demand of compensation for their dead relatives began in 2005. Then, she said, the government gave each qualified recipient an initial amount of L $20,000.00.

"Please your hold this little amount, we just went to election and a new government will be inaugurated soon; that government will be in the better position to reach any decision with you people on this matter," she quoted officials of the Defense Ministry, who were in charge of the exercise, as promising.

She however claimed that throughout President Sirleaf's first six-year term, she reneged on the promise of the NTGL government, but that she only gave them US $20,000 as Christmas package, when she was seeking reelection.

Whether the amounts they have received so far were part of the US $5 million she claimed the government owes them, she did not say.

The 41-year-old widow, who claimed to be an ex-AFL soldier, however raised questions about their quest for compensation when she revealed that the government had closed the chapter on AFL recompense and that it was no longer considering their demands.

"After the election, when we met Ellen in November 2012 and put the issue of our husbands' and fathers' death benefits before her, she said government was not in the position of availing us such huge sum of money. She however, promised to provide us a final package as our Christmas and New Year gift that would make us to forget government obligation to us.

"All we want now is for the President to make good her promised to us, or pay our dead husbands' and fathers' benefit," she said.

The widows' spokesperson assured Liberians that they would not get into the streets or demand anything from the Liberian government once President Sirleaf gave them the Christmas package.

When contacted, Presidential Press Secretary Jerelinmik Piah told this paper that President Sirleaf was unhappy with the behavior of the AFL widows, as she was doing everything possible to make good her promise.

"Information from the appropriate authorities indicates that GOL does not owe AFL widows. On the issue of the promise of gift, street protest and media outreach are unacceptable approaches to follow-up. Consideration could be made depending on the conduct of the women," the presidential secretary said.

Meanwhile, report emanating from the office of the Security Advisor to President Sirleaf, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh says he has promised to organize a meeting with the Liberian leader and the widows.

According to one of the widows (unidentified) who met Dr. Fahnbulleh at his Foreign Ministry office last Friday, they are scheduled to meet with the president, who is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

Assistant Defense Minister for Public Affairs, Daniel Dahn, weighing in on the widow's demand, via cell phone Saturday, reiterated the press secretary's disclaimer that the government owed no recompense to the family of any soldier, living or dead, regarding the Liberian war.

"We have told them this over and again; the Liberian Government (GOL) through the Ministry of Defense will not give any professed AFL widows a penny again, because we have priority areas," the assistant minister said.

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