The New Dawn (Monrovia)

25 January 2013

Liberia: Lawmakers Split On Sending Troops

From all indications, members of the 53rd Liberian Legislature hold divergent views on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's recent pronouncement to send a platoon, approximately 44 soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia on peacekeeping mission to Mali, currently battling Islamist militants.

On Thursday, members of the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly during session in support of the President's pronouncement to deploy Liberian troops in Mali with 32 lawmakers voting for, while four opposed the decision.

Among members of the House, who voted against the plan are Maryland County Representative Dr. Bhofal Chambers; Montserrado County Representatives; Acarous Gray and Munah Pelham, and a Nimba County lawmaker.

However, the Liberian Senate has summoned three members of the cabinet - Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, Finance Minister Amara Konneh, and Justice Minister Christina Tah to appear before the upper House to provide detail information about the plan by the Commander-In-Chief of the army to send soldiers abroad on peace mission.

During heated debate among the senators, Grand Bassa County Senior Senator, Gbezongar Milton Findley, said while Liberians maybe willing to provide military assistance to the peace initiative in Mali, it was also important for members of the Legislature to have an insight of the entire plan before the soldiers depart Liberia.

Senator Findley, who is Pro-tempore of the Liberian Senate, stressed that though there will be logistical support and funding from both the regional body ECOWAS and the international community, the Government of Liberia should provide details to its people.

He noted that both the Justice and Defense Ministers must show their faces in the Chamber of the Senate to give legal implications and the military capability of the Armed Forces of Liberia to take on international peacekeeping mission.

But Gbarpolu County Junior Senator Armah Jallah, in a rather lonely voice said Liberia should take into account contributions by many countries during its own civil crises that left thousands dead and millions worth of properties destroyed, spinning over a decade.

In what seems to be an abrupt u-turn, the Senate Chairman on Defense and Intelligence, Senator Prince Y. Johnson, said the army is logistically and tactically prepared to take on the task in Mali.

Senator Johnson had earlier told this paper via mobile phone this week that the army was yet to adequately protect the borders of Liberia and lacks the logistical capacity to deploy abroad. On Thursday however, he told his colleagues that the military is prepared to face combat both on land, sea and in the air.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, Thursday appeared before the House behind closed doors to brief members of that august body about the pending peace initiative.

Immediately upon her return last weekend from an extraordinary meeting of fellow ECOWAS leaders in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, President Johnson-Sirleaf disclosed plan to send a platoon of soldiers to be integrated in a battalion of an ECOWAS Peacekeeping Mission in Mali.

The Commander-In-Chief said this will be Liberia's first time in the most recent years to participate in an international peace mission, and added that the objective is to express Liberia's solidarity to the Malian people for their effort in helping to restore peace here during our own crises, noting it was time to give back.

She said West African countries have pledged support to France for launching military operations in Mali, within the framework of respect for the sovereignty of Mali under the international legality to halt the advance of terrorist and extremist groups, thus paving the way for the implementation of Resolution 2085 (2012).

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