Liberia: UN Airlifts Nigerian Force Into Capital
Liberia: UN airlifts first of two Nigerian battalions to war-torn capital
The United Nations today transported the first of two battalions from Nigeria to Liberia’s main airport to set up a forward headquarters for West African troops that will help restore order in the war-torn country.
Despite inclement weather in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, a total of 142 troops and their equipment had been deployed to Robertsfield airport from Freetown, Sierra Leone, where they had been a part of the UN Mission in that country, known as UNAMSIL. The Nigerian troops are to form part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) force that will police implementation of a recent ceasefire agreement between the Liberian Government and the country's two main rebel factions, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy and Elections in Liberia (MODEL).
In a press briefing today at UN Headquarters in New York, Hédi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, told reporters that the airlift would continue over the coming days and, barring any unforeseen development, was expected to be completed by 17 August.
Two months of nearly non-stop fighting between Liberian rebels and government forces has devastated Monrovia. Countless civilians have been killed or wounded and hundreds of thousands of others have streamed into the capital seeking refuge from the fighting. Many have been living in the streets with little if any access to clean water, sanitation and food. UN agencies have called the conditions “horrific” and say the city is now in the grips of a cholera epidemic.
Last Friday, the UN Security Council authorized the establishment of a multinational force to support implementation of the ceasefire, as well as a follow-on UN stabilization force. Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the move, saying, “Now that this resolution has passed…I would hope that when the multinational force gets there, it will bring some hope and relief to the Liberian people as we prepare to deploy a UN peacekeeping operation.”
Mr. Annabi said Monday the deployment of the second Nigerian battalion and its equipment – to be transported by the United States – was scheduled to begin around 15 August. The UN, through UNAMSIL, would sustain and provide logistical support to the two battalions for an initial period of 30 days until a contractor, with the support of the US, took over, he said. He pointed out that because of the ongoing downsizing of UNAMSIL, instead of being redeployed to the world body’s logistics base at Brindisi, Italy, some of the Mission’s assets were now being redeployed to Liberia.
Mr. Annabi said that in anticipation of Friday’s action by the Council, preparation had already begun for the follow-on peacekeeping force. As was usually the case in such situations, preparations were also underway to send a technical survey mission to Monrovia as soon as security conditions permitted. In addition, the UN was in touch with potential contributors to that follow-on peacekeeping force and would soon be meeting with them to firm up all arrangements for their deployment and ascertain exactly what countries were prepared to participate and what assets and equipment they were prepared to offer.
Also as part of the planning process, an Integrated Task Force (ITF) on Liberia was being established and was expected to hold its first meeting this week under the chairmanship of Jacques Paul Klein, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Liberia.