Liberia

Liberia: Taylor pledges to rebuild military

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ABIDJAN, 5 January 2000 (IRIN) - Two years after presidential elections in Liberia, its government is moving to put together a better trained and professional military that represents all or most of ethnic groups, news organisations reported President Charles Taylor as saying.
"We will make sure to have a balanced, trained, professional and mobile army that will respond decisively to any external threat," Taylor said at an induction of key senior officers, according to Reuters.

Liberia has at least 16 ethnic groups and Augustine Toure, head of Liberia Democracy Watch, told IRIN on Wednesday that "many Liberians are for an ethnically balanced army".

He said, however: "We want a transparent process that will include the international community, preferably ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) which was responsible for the Abuja Peace Accord." That agreement, signed in August 1996, ended seven years of civil war during which fighters splintered into several rival ethnic factions.

Regarding the new military's mission, Toure said: "We see no real external threat except for the possibility of domestic opponents living outside the country."

While declining to identify potential enemies, an official in the Ministry of Defence told IRIN, "You have to plan for anything."

The official, who did not wish to be identified by position or name, confirmed that there were plans to revamp the Armed Forces of Liberia. He said the recruits - who would exclude women - would have to "be mentally, physically and educationally fit and willing to serve".

A government commission set up in 1999 suggested reforms to the military. Reuters said copies of the recommendations were sent to the United States and other countries. However, Taylor has complained that his government has received no international aid to rebuild the military.

Liberia's armed forces were was formed in the US military tradition and, the Liberian defence official said, Monrovia would like to maintain these ties.

Under a peace plan brokered by the 16-member ECOWAS, Liberia's military was to have been reformed and trained by the community's peace monitoring group, ECOMOG.

However, after his election, Taylor insisted that it was his sovereign right to recruit and train his army, spurring fear among critics that the military would be made up largely of pro-Taylor civil war fighters.

[ENDS]

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Item: irin-english-2230

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