Liberia

Soldiers in Liberia protest over pay arrears

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By Alphonso Toweh

MONROVIA, June 14 (Reuters) - About 200 soldiers set up roadblocks and brought traffic in central Monrovia to a halt on Tuesday as they protested outside Liberia Defence Ministry to complain they had not been paid for months.

Some of the protesters, members of Liberia's regular army, said if they did not receive their wages they would disrupt presidential elections due in October, the first polls since a 2003 peace deal put an end to a brutal civil war.

"We want our arrears, we want all the amount they owe us. If they do not pay the arrears there won't be elections because we will tell all our friends to disturb so the election will not take place," said a soldier who gave his name as Captain Bush.

"Tomorrow we will march to the (Executive) Mansion," he said, referring to the presidential palace in the seaside city.

The demonstrators, some of whom wore military uniforms, were unarmed. They built makeshift roadblocks with rocks and sticks, and some of them lay on the ground to prevent cars circulating.

United Nations peacekeepers, drafted in to ensure security and equipped with teargas canisters, stood by and watched.

Liberia has been run by a transitional government since the peace deal paved the way for Charles Taylor to stand down as president and go into exile in Nigeria. Presidential and parliamentary elections are slated for Oct. 11.

Under the peace deal, the army that served under Taylor is meant to be replaced by a new force, which would bring in the civil war's former foes.

The head of the transitional government, Gyude Bryant, has said a new army should be in place before the polls, but the process of creating a unified military force has run into a series of delays and has only just started.

"We were relocated from the main barracks to a different place on the understanding we would be paid and resettled but up to now nothing has happened," said a female soldier, Mary Dahn.

"We want our pay now. Due to the hardship, my two-month-old baby died," she said.

Defence Minister Daniel Chea, who held talks with army officers and U.N. peacekeepers at the ministry, told Reuters he would not negotiate with the protesters.

"I am not the minister of finance ... our soldiers, they need to be law abiding and responsible," he said. "I am not going to negotiate with them."

The war has been devastating for Liberia's economy. Under Taylor, civil servants accumulated months, if not years, of unpaid salaries.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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