Peacekeeping: Liberia Still Simmers

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January 22, 2015: Despite having been pacified by UN peacekeepers in 2004, the West African nation of Liberia is still a sanctuary for rebels from neighboring countries. Thus in January 2015 rebels based Liberia crossed into Ivory Coast and attacked an army base. This left two soldiers dead and the attackers fled back into Liberia. This is the third such attack in a year and the security forces (including the few thousand UN peacekeepers still in Liberia) have been unable or unwilling to go after the Ivory Coast rebels in their territory.. The fear is amplified by the fact that some of the “rebels” are Liberians who have been involved in the Ivory Coast civil war that began in 2003, technically ended in 2010 and still simmers. Both factions in that civil war hired Liberian mercenaries, men experienced because of the Liberian civil war that went on for most of the 1990s left a lot of unemployed rebels behind. The followers of former Ivory Coast dictator Gbagbo became established in Liberia when over 200,000 Ivory Coast refugees fled their homes during the civil war.

Liberia has had more than a little internal unrest itself. In early 2004, despite being outnumbered, UN peacekeepers advanced into towns held by MODEL and LURD rebels and begun aid operations. A battalion of Bangladeshi troops went into the MODEL held port city of Buchanan while more Bangladeshi troops went into the LURD controlled inland towns of Gganga and Tubmanburg. The rebels first resisted these advances, but after a show of force by the peacekeepers, and a threat to cut off food aid, they relented. Most Liberians want peace, and most of the gunmen will give up their weapons for a few hundred dollars. But these same men and adolescents will keep their weapons if they have no other way to get fed.

In 2004 most of Liberia was still controlled by warlords who engaged in the illegal export of diamonds, lumber and other items, and the import of weapons. The government also agreed with the UN that the country is not yet safe enough for the return of 400,000 Liberian refugees living in neighboring countries. Those refugees have now largely returned. The 3.3 million people in Liberia are still poor and there is still plenty of activity against bandits, many of them former rebels.

In 2004 most of Liberia was still a lawless no-man's land overrun by hungry guys with guns and not much adult supervision. That situation has slowly improved since then. This began with elections in 2005 and efforts at reconstruction (and suppression of corruption) ever since. The armed forces consists of about 1,800 troops who are more involved with maintaining law and order than in going to war with rebels from neighboring countries. 

Liberia was founded in 1822 by Americans as a place to repatriate freed slaves. By 1980, the descendants of these slaves comprised but five percent of the 2.8 million people living in the country. The rest belonged to over a dozen different tribes. Ten percent of the population is Christian, 20 percent Muslim and the rest practice traditional religions. Until 1990, the Americo-Liberians dominated the political and commercial life of the country. But in 1980 the tribes revolted, executed the Americo-Liberian leadership and fought each other for the next seven years. Some thirty percent of the population fled the country, and as many became refugees within Liberia. There was actually a series of coups, insurrections and general anarchy. In 1990, neighboring African states sent in a peacekeeping force and by 1997 a semblance of peace had returned. But in the meantime, some ten percent of the population was killed. Not all the rebels have made peace, and various factions still operate in and around the largest tropical rainforest in Africa.

 

 


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