Liberia: Unpaid Salaries Deepen Economic Pains for AFL Peacekeepers

Already suffering grievously under the deepened economic hardship, family members of soldiers deployed in the West African troubled Mali as part of the ongoing United Nation Peacekeeping Mission (MINUSMA), now face destitution as their salaries have reportedly gone largely unpaid for months.

Some of the soldiers, who spoke with the Daily Observer by mobile phone, said the government for the last two months, (July and August) has not made payment to their wives or designated persons.

"How does the government expect us to send our children to school when it has not paid us," one of the soldiers (now aggrieved) said.

However, when the Daily Observer contacted the Assistant Defense Minister for Public Affairs, Sam Collins, but he could neither deny or confirm the accusation.

"Please give me just five minutes to get in touch with the Chief of Staff, Major/General Prince C. Johnson III, and will get back to you," Collins told the reporter.

But up to press time last night since the Collins' conversation on Thursday's night, he did not get back to the reporter.

It can be recalled that Gen. Johnson recently told the public that since the deployment of soldiers from the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) troops in Mali, they have exhibited a high degree of professionalism; something which has prompted the UN to request increment in the number of the Liberian troop in Mali.

Other soldiers, who spoke with this newspaper on condition of anonymity, said up to present, government has not given them an explanation as to how much compensation they will receive for their services as UN peacekeepers.

They linked their frustrations to the dangers of the mission.

"The government needs to understand that after we have risked our lives; left our families for months, see how they are treating us," another soldier angrily remarked.

According to some of the soldiers, they do not know when they will return home having served in the mission for more than a year.

"Look, I have been on this mission for 12 months, and I don't know when I will return. Nobody is telling us anything from the command structure back home," another soldier added.

One of them put forward the common accusation that officers were benefiting from their hardship.

"It is sad our people are treating us like this, and we are faraway to help our families," a couple of them cried.

A military 'expert' told this newspaper that the financial opportunities that are often associated within UN operations can create new avenues for perceptions of injustice.

The expert said that military deployments as part of peacekeeping missions have triggered army mutinies in some West African countries, though ruling out the Liberians case completely.

Therefore, it is important for those interested in building and maintaining effective military to understand the ways in which deployments and peacekeeping participation can contribute to unrest within the armed forces in any part of the world.

"The overall goal of peacekeeping is to help create the conditions in which conflicts can be managed, and ultimately resolved," the military source said.

"Even when soldiers do receive their salaries, it is common for those on deployment to feel as if the amount is not adequate, particularly in relation to the deployment conditions," the expert explained.

The greater risks associated with deployments often lead to a heightened sense of entitlement in terms of pay. According to the source, soldiers on deployment or returned from deployment believe they are more important to the government or military hierarchy because of their experience.

"These two types of pay grievances are not mutually exclusive, and at times mutineers have claimed that their inadequate salaries are also late," the military expert noted.

He said a combination of pay grievances contributed to mutinies by returned ECOMOG soldiers in The Gambia in 1991 and 1992, the first mutinies the country had experienced.

"The mutineers charged not only that they had not been paid their salaries, but also that the promised pay was inadequate given the hardships in the mission owing to the rough terrain," the source said.

Northern Mali fell to jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda in March 2012 and, although these forces were driven out of key towns by a French-led military intervention the following year, remnants of the jihadists have now spread further South.

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