Liberia

Liberia: 10,000 Ex-Combatants Terrorise Ordinary Citizens

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MONROVIA December 13 - The Liberian government is grappling with the task of resettling nearly 10,000 ex-combatants in a bid to keep them off street, and from terrorising civilians.

About 5,000 ex-combatants have been integrated into the army and other para- military apparatus. However the 10,000, who have not been absorbed, have become social and societal problems.

The majority of the ex-combatants are disabled, most of them amputees, who are either in their late 20s or early 30s, now commonly referred to as "war veterans".

The former fighters, who fought Liberia's seven-year bloody war which ended in 1997, have demanded compensation for their role in the guerrilla war (1989- 1997), which brought President Charles Taylor and his ruling National Patriotic Party NPP to office in 1997.

To ease their plight, religious and social institutions have put some of the ex-combatants in vocational schools, in a bid to transform their lives into productive citizens.

Many Liberians have demanded to be briefed on the whereabouts of the US $3 million donated by Taiwan for the rehabilitation of the ex-fighters. A statement from the Liberian government says the money had been channelled through the ministry of education for the renovation of damaged public institutions of learning in the tiny West African country of about three million people.

The United Nations, through its representative in Monrovia, Felix Downes Thomas, also has expressed concern over the plight of the former fighters. It promised them a relief package to alleviate their suffering.

But delay to deliver the aid led to an attack by the ex-combatants on the premises of the United Nations and subsequently on the family and residence of the Executive Director for the Centre for Democratic Empowerment CEDE, Comany B. Wesseh, in the capital here.

The attack on the Wesseh's family took place less than three weeks following the commencement of the burning of weapons collected from the fighters as part of the country's disarmament process.

Liberia's disarmament process began on July 26, the day the country, founded by freed slaves from the United States, celebrated its 152nd independence.

Former Interim president Amos Sawyer is amongst those who have condemned the constant exhibition of violence by the ex-combatants.

Sawyer, who is also chairman of the CEDE Board of Directors, claims that the attack on the Centre's Executive Director's family was organised, and that the men who committed the crime were offered transport to Wesseh's house. Sawyer demanded full compensation to the Wesseh family from the losses they sustained from the attack by a group of ex-combatants.

Similarly, opposition leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party UP, who is currently out of the country, has suspended the activities of a community project in Liberia following repeated looting of her offices in Monrovia by militant groups. She says the programme will be suspended "until government is able to ensure the safety of lives and properties in the country".

The Student Integration Movement SIM of the University of Liberia described the violence by the ex-combatants as a crime syndicate deeply rooted in the country's notorious system. The students say it will be "mistaken belief on the part of any group to reintroduce a society wicked and survives by diabolical means".

Liberia's local daily, The News, said in a recent editorial, Tame The Ex- Combatants, that "the former fighters who had killed some 250,000 people, shattered the lives of thousands of others and scattered many more as refugees, are now bent on derailing all efforts at national reconciliation and Reconstruction".

To ease the tension, the government has given US $ 25,000 for the upkeep and welfare of the ex-combatants, through the ministry of health and social welfare, which will formulate plans and co-ordinate the usage of the money on behalf of the former fighters.

Many Liberians hope that the US $ 25,000 will go a long way in helping ease the plight of the ex-combatants, thus putting to rest their violence on the civil population.

Even so, 22-year-old McGill Thompson, a disabled war veteran, living in a deserted store in central Monrovia, says he has not received his ration of a bag of rice and his US $50 monthly stipend for several months.

"I don't have money for transport to go to the veterans' office or even to the NPP headquarters for my ration," he says. ?

Reported by Albert Gayflor, Human Rights Selection in Monrovia

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