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Liberia: UNMIL press briefing - 12 Nov 2008

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Mr. George Somerwill, Chief, UNMIL Public Information Section, and Mr. Andrea Tamagnini, UNMIL Director for Reintegration, Rehabilitation & Recovery (RRR)

NEAR VERBATIM

Mr. George Somerwill (Chief, UNMIL Public Information and Acting Spokesperson)

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media. Welcome to our weekly press briefing. We also like to welcome our UNMIL Radio listeners throughout Liberia who are monitoring this program. For our guest today, we have UNMIL Director for Reintegration, Rehabilitation & Recovery (RRR), Mr. Andrea Tamagnini. He will be speaking on his planned visit to Cote d'Ivoire to assess the situation of Liberian refugees in the border region with Liberia, near Grand Gedeh County. He will also talk on the recent round of re-integration of ex-combatants and what will be put into place when the process is completed. Before going over to our guest, I will provide you some highlights of the latest mission's activities.

On Tuesday, 11 November, SRSG Ellen Margrethe Løj visited Bong County and held a meeting with local county officials. She also toured the Bangla Bong Agro Project and the Armed Forces of Liberia Camp, including the Dolokelen Barror Elementary School. This visit was part of Ms. Løj's routine trip around the country to assess the level of work being done by UNMIL peacekeepers around the country.

In another development, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General will this afternoon award UN peacekeeping medals to officers of the all-female Indian Formed Police Unit for their contribution to peace and stability of Liberia. This medal ceremony will take place at the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville. In a related development, Ms. Løj will on this Saturday decorate UNMIL Philippine Military Contingent with UN peacekeeping medals for their support to the work of the Mission in Liberia.

UNMIL Force Commander, Lt.-Gen Alam is on a familiarization visit to Sector III - Bong, parts of Nimba, and Grand Bassa County. He will use this trip to see what UNMIL troops in that part of the country are doing to support the mandate of UNMIL.

Mr. Andrea Tamagnini, UNMIL Director for RRR

Thank you very much. I would to talk today about an important moment that we are sharing with a number of partners in Liberia in the reintegration effort and in particular the ex-combatants. The reintegration programme is changing gear in this period. It is changing gear from ex-combatants only programmes into community development that will include ex-combatants. We have been working now for several years together with the national commission for DDRR, number of ministries, agencies like UNDP, ILO and others. I can give you some basic numbers that indicate the kind of achievements that has been reached.

At the end of the conflict there was an estimate of how many ex-combatants there were in Liberia. And the estimates were based on ex-combatants provided by the different fighting forces. The number was 38,000 at the time of peace that we were considering. When the disarmament started in 2004 the criteria for inclusion was actually widen to give the possibility to as many people as possible to access the programme. We actually reached the total number of more than 101,000 ex-combatants. It was good in a sense because women were the first case in the war who were associated or abused by the conflict and some fighting forces, and were included as ex-combatants and could access the training and the whole package that the ex-combatants received. About 23,000 women managed to get included and access this package.

By the end of 2007 we had an estimate of how many people have actually accessed the training facilities and the number was about 93,000. This was quite a satisfaction for that. This number including the people that have accessed training opportunities providing by UNDP Trust Fund which was supported by a number of countries that provided funds through UNDP. It included also some special efforts some agencies had carried out such as USAID and EU.

But towards the end of 2007 we had a long meeting in the National Commission for DDRR which at that time, we had calculated that the number of ex-combatants that have not accessed the training and packages that were available at that time should have been around 9,000. There was an agreement and this meeting was attended by the donors, UNDP, NCDDRR, by all the agencies including UNMIL. It was an agreement that 9,000 ex-combatants have not yet accessed the facilities.

So, on the basis of that number we had an additional contribution of the Norwegian Government that provided about US$7,000,000 through UNDP, and together with the National Commission for DDRR we started preparing signing programmes and look again for the implementation of this programme and gear more towards employment. The exercise of identifying the needy ex-combatants that have not accessed these programmes started in January 2008. We identified about 7,300 who were entitled. I am talking about the ex-combatants with cards. A total of 7,300 ex-combatants were informed of the possibility of training in different areas of the country. The training actually started. Around 5,132 of them came and were interested. They were registered and they are participating right now. This is an indication that we were not that bad in calculating the remaining number in 2007.

We are going towards the end of the ex-combatants only support. By April 2009, there will not be any more support only for ex-combatants. There will be an amplification of the programmes for communities and the ex-combatants will be able to get support as everybody else in communities. This is a way of supporting people that have worked already. We have spoken already of some programmes with UNDP, ILO and a number of other agencies that have promoted the road side brushing and cleaning drainages. This is a programme that created 60,000 jobs during two years. It was a programme that was not only for ex-combatants, but also people from the communities, returning refugees and internally displaces persons (IDPs). The community was responsible for preparing the working team and not us selecting them and they were paid US$3.00 per day. US$6,000,000 was channeled through this into the communities all along the roads from Voinjama to Gbarnga, from Tappita to Zwedru, from Zwedru to Fishtown. This programme has been successful and this is the future for the ex-combatants. This programme and other programmes are available for everybody.

We will continue to work with the NCDDR and UNDP in this programme and we have geared the programme to be more oriented on employment. Employment is a big challenge and a big problem in Liberia. We have been discussing for the past few months that there is the need for emergency employment. This is our reading of the situation because the economy is growing but not as fast as we would like. Private sectors are creating jobs but not as many as we need. So there is a possibility of continuing with this emergency employment efforts. We together with UNDP and other agencies are preparing now a third phase of the employment programme, which is more sustainable because it is not only based on the work of UNMIL, UNDP and the Liberian Government Ministry of Public Works, but is based on national realities - more on NGOs and less on UNMIL, and more on the Government in the implementation.

At the same time we are working with the Ministry of Agriculture to help Minister Toe to unleash the urge potential of employment in agriculture. Agriculture Minister Toe has a number of good ideas and together with his people we are trying to design programmes that could be financed and provide jobs. The Ministry of Agriculture is leading the way as well as the Ministry of Public Works has been leading the way for the road repairs. Before we were talking about infrastructure for employment, and now we talking about poverty eradication for employment and the repairing of the road is just for the community to earn money. There is a contribution of the World Bank of US$3.7 million that we have been signing with the Ministry of Public Works and other ministries to be implemented as soon as possible.

Last Wednesday we travelled with Minister Toe who is the Chairperson of the Task Force; and with Internal Affairs Minister Johnson and with representative of the Ministry of Finance to Greenville, Sinoe County. As you know, the Rubber Plantation Taskforce has recovered a number of plantations starting with Guthrie, Cavalla, and Cocopa from either occupation by ex-combatants or from illegal management or other issues. The biggest effort now is concentrating on Sinoe. We have been concentrating on setting up a programme for some time. In practice the main purpose of the mission is to have the Ministry of Finance to take control of revenue collection in the rubber sector in Greenville and this has happened.

The next step is to restart the dialogue with the communities at the plantation and establish an interim management team that will respond directly to the Ministry of Agriculture. It has to be an effort led by Minister Toe and we are together with him to work.

On my mission to Ivory Coast, we are going to join efforts as UNMIL and UNDP with the United Nations Mission in the Ivory Coast and with UNDP local office to look at the issue of Liberian refugees. After one and a half day in Abidjan we will be travelling to Giglo which is the area where these refugees are and there are also some former Liberian combatants that were included in the militias there. We want to have a direct contact with all these people to know what they want to do. In my experience, refugees know what happened and they know what is better for them and we have to respect that. But we want to know how they are - if they are in need of support; if they want to come home. The same thing goes for the ex-combatants - how many they are; what their situation is? We want to get a common reading of the situation together with the UN Mission in the Ivory Coast and UNDP. We will be preparing one report and have one reading of what is going on. The mission will last for one week.

Questions and Answers

Q: Rudolph Gborkeh (Daily Graphic Newspaper)

Recently there were some disturbances of ex-combatants in Zwedru. How does this embarrass your office?

A: Mr. Andrea Tamagnini, UNMIL Director for RRR

The final phase of training for reintegration has started in 28 locations all around Liberia. We had a little bit of problems, few of them due to the misunderstanding of ex-combatants that were not included in the programme. In this programme we are addressing specifically and only ex-combatants that have not been included in previous programmes. Some ex-combatants have come out claiming that they had to receive additional funding and there is no money for anybody else other than people who have not access the programme. I am saying that, hoping that the message is sent around and kept by everybody. The fund that we have now together with UNDP and NCDDRR is only for people that have not accessed training before. We have done the identification of those to benefit and we have the name of about 7,300, and 5, 132 came forward and are the only ones to access.

When the programme is over by April 2009, there will be programme that can support communities and ex-combatants inside the communities. There are claims often from the community side as to why the programmes are only for the ex-combatants.

Q: Edwin C. Benson (In Profile Daily Newspaper)

You talked about shifting from ex-combatants only to that of community work. Who exactly are going to be involved in this community work? Is it going to be the ex-combatants or the community dwellers?

A: Mr. Andrea Tamagnini, UNMIL Director for RRR

The way programmes are organized at the community level is well known. The priorities are defined by the communities; the priorities are defined by the Government in agreement with the communities in getting the working force. We asked them to include ex-combatants, women, former refugees and IDPs so that everybody can have a chance.

Q: Gideon Scott (Sentinel Newspaper)

You spoke of going to Ivory Coast and going as far as Giglo where Liberian refugees are. Could you tell us the purpose of your visit? Are you going to talk about repatriation?

You also talked about the work of the RRR, but I did not hear you say anything of Maryland County that is cut off from the rest of the country. How soon will you extend your arm in the part of the country?

A: Mr. Andrea Tamagnini, UNMIL Director for RRR

It is a fact finding mission. We want to know more about the situation that is faced by the refugees, how many they are, what they are planning to do? The same thing applies for the ex-combatants. It is a difficult now to say what we will find. We had some information that there are probably a few thousand people.

On the issue of the employment programme, in 2006/2007, and 2007/2008 we have been working on the back bone of the road system in Liberia. So from Voinjama down to Zorzor, Gbarnga, from Ganta to Tappita, to Zwedru and on to Fish Town; and the first year we arrived all the way down to Harper. Last dry season that ended May/June this year, we have been working more or less on the same roads but we did not have the resources to go down to Harper because the African Development Bank has promised the Public Works and they will be working on that piece of road. The priorities of the country are not set by us; they are set by the Government. The Government tells us where is it that we have to work. We negotiate the bid because we are on the main roads and it is on the mandate.

Q: Julius Kanubah (Star Radio)

What can you speak of the success of this intensive labour employment programme for ex-combatants? And how safe would it be for UNMIL to end its support to ex-combatants by April of next year?

A: Mr. Andrea Tamagnini, UNMIL Director for RRR

The employment programme was not only for ex-combatants; it was for the communities including the ex-combatants. The way forward is that the ex-combatants get back into their communities and they get jobs through their communities. The rate of success is pretty high. We can claim success for various reasons because we did a survey and the University of Liberia helped us. We have seen that there is long term investment with that money, even if it is a short term employment. There are important investments of these communities. They invest in education for example. The other important thing is the employment if fitting very well between the two agriculture cycles.

Another prove of success of this programme comes from a survey we did on illegal recruitment. In October/November 2007, there was a crisis in Guinea. We decided to find out more about illegal recruitment and what was going on. We interacted with some commanders who were crossing over, and they told us they could not find young guys in Lofa. It was at the time the programme was just starting, and a thousand people were working. This shows that when people have jobs, they do not go fighting. 97% of the ex-combatants interviewed in Lofa said they were better off now than when they were fighting. Two thirds said they will not fight again. One third said yes they will fight again. The reason was unemployment and the economy.

That is why we responded very strongly to the call of the President in 2006 - the call for employment.