Liberia: UNMIL 13 January Press Brief

News and Press Release
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Mr. George Somerwill, Chief, Public Information, and Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj, Special Representative of the Secretary-General


Mr. George Somerwill (Chief, Public Information)

Good morning and very warm welcome to you ladies and gentlemen of the press. I would also like to say a warm welcome and happy New Year to our listeners on UNMIL Radio.

We are very lucky this morning to be joined by the SRSG, Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj. She has agreed to join us to update Liberians and all of us on the upcoming year and to speak about the challenges that the United Nations together with the Government of Liberia will have to deal with during the course of the year.

Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)

Thank you very and it is a pleasure to see you ladies and gentlemen of the media here in Monrovia. I am also happy to greet the UNMIL Radio listeners and colleagues from the United Nations all across Liberia.

I would like to start by wishing you a happy New Year. I am happy to be here so early in the New Year with the press for the first time in 2010. I would also like to use this opportunity to thank you for the support that you have provided to UNMIL in 2009. And I look forward to a stronger working relationship will all of you in this New Year.

Before I make a few remarks regarding the challenges for UNMIL and indeed for everyone of us in 2010, let me say that I and the mission are very devastated to hear about the tragic news from Haiti and the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Our hearts and prayers go out for all the Haitian people and our many UN colleagues serving in Haiti.

Let me turn to a few points related to UNMIL in 2010. As I have told you before in September, the Security Council mandated UNMIL to carry out the third phase of its drawdown of military forces. Since September, over 600 Ethiopians have left the mission and the remaining Ethiopian soldiers will be gone by early February.

Some members of the Bangladeshi Military contingent will also be leaving Liberia between March and April 2010. Following that repatriation and the completion of this phase of our drawdown, UNMIL will be at a military strength of 8,000 peacekeepers. This is still a substantial number and we expect to be able to effectively deal with any internal or external threat to the peace in Liberia. In implementing drawdown and reduction, we will have to reposition some of our troops so the population of Liberia, especially upcountry will see more movement of UN military personnel. But please note that this is no cause for alarm; it is just repositioning.

You might also be aware that we will not be reducing our police presence for the moment. We currently have 1,375 police officers, including 7 Formed Police Units and the individual police advisors whose role will remain crucial in training and advising the Liberia National Police (LNP).

Our UN Police officers are also assisting the LNP to carry out day-to-day operational tasks to combat crime in Liberia. The UN Police work closely with the LNP and its Emergency Response Unit to ensure that security is guaranteed. And I do hope that you will agree that the low numbers of reported armed robberies is an indication that our joint efforts with the LNP are having the desired effect.

In spite of the drawdown, I want to assure Liberians that we will not compromise the security of Liberia. We are ensuring that no security vacuum is created which could put Liberia at risk. We will also be able to support the elections of 2011 as we have been mandated to do by the Security Council.

Concerning border security, UNMIL Police and Military are working closely with the Liberian authorities to closely monitor events along the country's borders and in the neighboring countries to ensure that we deal with any negative fallout of political developments from any of the neighbouring countries. Together with our Liberia colleagues we especially are monitoring developments in Guinea and especially along the Liberian-Guinean border. And let me underline, we have not observed any abnormal activity across the border.

At the end of 2009, I spent several days in both Nimba and Lofa counties. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to men and women who are working hard every day to overcome poverty to become entrepreneurs and to move forward towards a brighter future. I witnessed and visited a number of projects, including the cultivation of rice in large quantities and I saw the new links being forged between smallholder farmers and markets. The success of these kinds of programmes is crucial for the success of both Lofa and Nimba, and indeed, for the whole of Liberia. Likewise it gives me tremendous hope for Liberia's future when I witness first-hand the dedication and eagerness of school children-girls and boys alike all over Liberia. As I travel to the other counties later this year, I hope to see the same sort of initiative and ingenuity.

To give space for these efforts to succeed, we must ensure that the peace dividends acquired thus far are not reversed. We have to maintain peace and security with the support of all Liberians to allow the Government to make good on its pledge to develop Liberia. Peace and security are crucial to the development of the country; there is no development without peace and no peace without development; we have come a long way since 2003; let us work together to protect and preserve the peace that all Liberians have earned and let us focus on bringing development to all Liberians.

Yesterday, we were in Salala to commission a Bailey bridge recently launched by the Ministry of Public Works and UNMIL Military engineers. The Ministry and UNMIL Force engineers were also involved in the launch of another bridge in Careysburg, which was also inaugurated yesterday. The launching of these two bridges was the result of an excellent cooperation between the Ministry of Public Works and UNMIL. Not only was crucial road links established but during the process Liberian engineers and workers including personnel from the new Armed Forces of Liberia were trained. We in UNMIL firmly believe that working with the Liberian Government in such ventures will strengthen Liberian capacity to continue with development initiatives when UNMIL is no longer here.

As part of our annual road work to keep the main supply route open, UNMIL is well advanced on the more than 1,100 kilometers of road, which we have identified as priority deliverables for this dry season. The Salala and Careysburg bridges are a part of this initiative. Others are rehabilitation of the road between Voinjama-Foya, Zorzor-Voinjama, Zwedru-Tappita, Zwedru-Fishtown, just to name a few.

We are happy to do this in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Works. But I would like to make an appeal to all Liberians, especially those living along these roads: please do your utmost to maintain and not to destroy these roads. It is your roads, protect and maintain them. Then you will be able to enjoy them much longer.

Liberians will continue to be supported during 2010 in their development endeavours by all United Nations Agencies, Funds and Programmes. During the coming year we will be taking steps. Currently as one of very few UN Country Programmes around the world to do so - to ensure that we, the United Nations, "deliver as one." This means we will ensure that our projects and programmes are integrated to provide the maximum support to the largest number of Liberians.

Lastly, I call on all Liberians, to demonstrate that the commitment to your country's development is not driven by corrupt personal gain, but by a deeper call to serve and move the country forward. We highly applaud the zeal and enthusiasm Liberians are demonstrating in achieving our common goal: a peaceful and prosperous Liberia.

Once again, I wish you a successful 2010, and we in the United Nations look forward to working with you.

Thank you very much.

Questions and Answers

Q: Moses Garzeawu (Star Radio)

You spoke about the drawdown taking place gradually and you talked about shifting. What are the key areas or counties that the shifting will affect?

A: Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)

The Ethiopian battalion leaving right now has already left. They were in Zwedru. That battalion will be back-filled with the Pakistani battalion currently in Harper. So we will end up having Pakistani covering Harper, Fishtown and Zwedru. We will move some of the Ghanaians in Buchanan and Cestos city further down along the coastline. The Bangladeshi Battalion is currently in Gbarnga covering Bong County. The Pakistani battalion headquartered in Voinjama will spread down and be responsible for Lofa and Bong counties.

We will continue to have peacekeepers in all the counties in Liberia. We are moving into what we call a watch mobility capacity. We will also be making changes to the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) in Camp Clara and some of their APCs will be reposition in other areas of the country if anything happens.

Q: Moses Garzeawu (Star Radio)

For 2011 elections, you said UNMIL will give their full support to the process. With the security drawdown, does UNMIL have any that there will be security threat during the 2011 elections?

A: Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)

I think the terminology I used was that we will be able to support the 2011 elections. I am also ready to say that we will give our support to the elections provided you understand the term full correctly. I want to underline that the elections in 2011 will not be run by the United Nations. Those elections will have to be run by Liberians themselves under the leadership of the National Elections Commission. But we have been mandated to provide logistic support within our capacity to facilitate access to remote areas during the elections. We have also been mandated by the Security Council to coordinate international support for the elections and also mandated to support Liberian institutions and political parties in creating a conducive atmosphere for the elections.

I am confident that we will be able to do it. We had the bi-election in Montserrado and the run off; there were a lot of discussions after the first round. Everybody sat down and had a lesson learnt session and all agreed that the second round was much smoother than the first round. It is clear that the experience was a lesson for all of us, especially the National Elections Commission and their international partners and relationship with other Liberian institutions such as the LNP, but also for the UN. We are far advance in preparing needs assessment of international support needed to ensure a smooth conduct of the elections in 2011.

I am sure it will be a challenge given the infrastructure of the country and the remoteness of many Liberians and the fact that the elections are due in October which might be a rainy season still. It will be a huge logistic problem. We will be on the watch for security fallout in relation to the elections. But we hope it will not happen because 2011 is the opportunity for each and every Liberian to show that you want to move forward; that you want democracy to prevail in Liberia and that you want to participate in these elections as enlightened and educated citizens. I certainly hope you will not because if you make a lot of trouble on the occasion of the elections, then people will say we give you Liberians the chance and assisted you after the war and you have had the support and do not want to move forward. So I appeal to each and every Liberian not to make trouble come 2011 elections, but to demonstrate maturity and how far you have moved compared to the civil war.

Q: Hester M. Jackson, II. (New Dawn Newspaper)

This question in line with your statement of the drawdown and border monitoring. Recently I visited Rivercess and it was noted that there are foreigners coming in along the sea shores in canoes, including Ivorians. What is UNMIL doing in working along with the Liberia Government to make sure that security is really stable in that county?

A: Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)

But what are those people doing in canoes? Are they are bringing in their fish ashore or trading? Is it illegal?

If you are asking about the Liberian institutions' capacity to monitor activities across the borders including the sea, that is why we are engaged with the LNP and Immigration Bureau to train their staff. Some Immigration officers recently graduated from training in Ghana last week and that is exactly to make them more vigilant and capable of monitoring the border.

You will have to be alert for illegal activities of weapons or drugs. But the fact that there is an interaction of the West African region and between Liberia and neighboring countries in it self is not a threat to security.

Q: Zoom Dosso (AFP/Radio France International)

Can we say that the LNP is ready to handle security situation when you withdraw totally?

A: Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)

I hope you noted that in this phase of the drawdown, it will be soldiers who will be affected. We will maintain the strength of the police we have had in the last two years. That is an indication that we still have a job to do with LNP and we are actively pursuing that. We are actively working and dedicated with the LNP in implementing the strategy the LNP developed in 2009. We are together with the Minister of Justice and the President, trying to get international partners to give support to LNP in crucial areas to ensure the LNP get up and run fully. If we have to wait for the government's budget to have these gaps filled, we will have to wait too long in our view. So we are trying to solicit that support.

Q: Varney Karneh (University of Liberia Radio/LUX FM)

Last year you called on the National Legislature for the smooth passage of the Threshold bill if Liberia has to go through the 2011 elections successfully. Up till now the bill is still there. What is the next course of action to ensure that the National Legislature passes the bill?

Secondly, in 2009 what was the most challenging task of the mission?

A: Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)

Regarding the Threshold bill, let me use this opportunity to underline strongly as I can that now it is the 11th hour for the Legislature to assume their constitutional responsibility to get the bill passed because if they are failing in implementing their constitutional responsibility, it has serious consequences for the preparations of those elections in 2011. It is not up to me to advise anybody in Liberia on what the Threshold should be, but I can only underline that the constitution is clear. But the Threshold needs to be established so that preparations can start.

I would also like to appeal to Liberians to say we want democracy and we want the constitution respected and the elections in 2011 properly prepared; you are our representatives, do your duties so that we are allowed to exercise our democratic rights in 2011. I hope that during the agriculture recess of the Legislature, they heard this message.

It is difficult to pin point to one particular challenge. But I feel everyday is a challenge in Liberia. I always got call about jail-break or demonstration but I take it as the head of a peacekeeping operations.

Why didn't you asked me what was my best moments in 2009? To that I would like to say that what I really enjoyed tremendously was when I had the opportunity to go upcountry, the opportunity to get a bit closer to Liberians like I normally do when sitting in my office in Monrovia; the joy and commitment I enjoy when I walk in the village and they do not think of me as the SRSG and they just look at me and I talk to school kids. To get that first impression with their enthusiasm, that really makes my day.

Q: Sheriff Adams (News newspaper)

Do we as a people in Liberia should be afraid of the situation in Guinea?

A: Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)

We in the mission are monitoring very closely of what is happening in Guinea. We have increased our patrols along the Liberian-Guinean border. We have been watching since the coup, especially the events of the stadium since September 2009. We have not monitored any unusual activity. We continue to follow it very closely. It is my hope that nothing will happen between Guinea and Liberian and in Guinea itself and that the political situation will be found in Guinea.

You know the border; we are trying to monitor as best as we can and working closely with the Liberian security institutions. But I also appeal to Liberians living around and along the border to report anything you observe as irregular activities. I promise that we and the Liberian institutions will follow up. I also appeal to all Liberians not to interfere and provoke anything inside Guinea but to go about your daily tasks and duties and do not entertain and adventurous activities.

Q: Nathan Charles (Liberia Broadcasting System)

How could you grade the work of the Government?

A: Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)

I have been working with the Government in two (2) years and 35 years from my own country as a diplomat, and this has taught me that the question you asked, I will never answer and I would not even try because I think I will be on the plane out of Liberia if I try to answer that. I communicate with the President and our partners of the Liberian Government and I am not here to pass judgment. And in 2011 you will be the one passing your judgment so I leave it safely in the hands of the Liberians.