6 February 2004

Liberia: Rebel Disarmament 'Irreverisble' Says Liberia Foreign Minister

Washington, DC — Although the rebel movements Lurd and Model will "will remain in force" until the end of Liberia's transition period, disarmament is ending their role as a military force, said Liberian Foreign Minister Thomas Nimely. "The disarmament process is irreversible," he insisted.

Nimely and USAID Administrator Andrew S. Natsios briefed Africa-focused reporters on Wednesday before departing Washington to participate in the International Reconstruction Conference on Liberia taking place in New York Thursday and Friday. There is fear that without rapid and major investment in the improvement of infrastructure and services, Liberia will slide back into civil war. Demobilization of rebel combatants tops a long list of concerns.

The conference, co-hosted by the United Nations, the World Bank, and the United States, in collaboration with Liberia's transition government, aims to marshal international support for Liberia's reconstruction effort. Participants from the European Union, Japan, China, and Ecowas from West Africa will also attend.

At this week's conference, the United States will reaffirm a commitment of US$445m. Two hundred million will go toward Liberia's US$487m reconstruction budget and for humanitarian and security assistance. The other US$245m is for peacekeeping costs. "This is new money," Natsios said. Both these amounts were included in the $87 billion appropriation for Iraq and Afghanistan approved by Congress in Octber. Last year, the United States spent US$100m on humanitarian aid for Liberia.

"An enormous effort will be required by the international community to assist Liberia in conquering the obstacles that remain toward reconstruction," said Natsios. "This is, however, the best opportunity the country has had in a very long time."

Liberia, a middle income nation 25 years ago, is now in "urgent" need of economic "resuscitation," said Nimely. "E-mail doesn't work,. Fax doesn't work, Telephones don't work. We operate our offices from cell phones," he said, adding: "We don't have electricity. We don't have water; the sewage is spilling into the streets....After 13 years there is no road that leads to any village."

Liberia's 14-year civil war resulted in a quarter million mostly civilian deaths. it is estimated that one in ten of Liberia's children were recruited into rebel militias. "If we do not do successful disarmament and demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of former combatants, the reconstruction is not going to work," said Natsios.

Liberia's stability is at stake, warned Nimely. "There's not much we can do [alone] to...survive. If we cannot keep the system up at this time...we're going to have some problems in the long run."

Liberian leader, Gyude Bryant, is taking part in the two-day conference, which began with technical talks Thursday. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell are scheduled to co-host the plenary session Friday, with representatives from 110 nations taking part.

TRANSCRIPT: Briefing by USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios and Liberian Foreign Minister Thomas Nimely

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