Sept. 12, 2016 (GIN) – U.S. cities fighting to get guns off their streets are not alone in the struggle. Liberia is there too.
This week, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf declared by proclamation that all persons who surrender small arms and light weapons under a regional weapons collection program would be granted amnesty.
President Sirleaf’s concern went beyond guns linked to crime in the capital Monrovia. She also singled out three counties in particular – Grand Gedeh, Maryland, and River Gee – where weapons have been proliferating since political violence erupted in the Ivory Coast in 2010. Over 200,000 Ivorians fled to Liberia and many remain, unable to be repatriated.
Liberian territory is suspected of being used as training grounds for mobilizing and arming those loyal to the former Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo, currently on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.
Human Rights Watch, years back, foundi that militants in Liberia were using children to conduct cross-border attacks on Ivorian villages. Some children, as young as 14, were being trained to attack Ivorians aligned with President Alassane Ouattara who live close to the border.
Despite volatility in the region, a U.N. Mission in Liberia, which took control of security in Liberia in 2003, has just ended its tour, leaving the country with some conflicts still simmering.
Waldemar Vrey, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for UNMIL, acknowledged the challenges ahead. “We think that everything is not perfect – probably every country’s security institutions will let you know that they don’t have everything they need – but we think that with the support and with the functioning of all the different structures, they should be ready to take care of the future.”
That “everything is not perfect” may be an understatement, however. In an interview with the U.N.’s Radio Coffee Break, the Superintendent of Grand Gedeh Country, Peter Solo, confirmed that foreigners were crossing into Liberia through unofficial border points with single barrel guns and machetes.
Residents of the Gbakwo District were fleeing into other districts and towns as a result of the presence of Ivorians and Burkinabes, he told the interviewer.
Last spring, a Small Arms project with $5.6 million Euros of European Union funds was launched across six regions, including Liberia.
Deputy Defense Minister Jerome Labalee gave a statement: “This project should be seen as one intended to sustain peace and promote development rather than stigmatizing individuals and/or groups of people who provide information on hidden arms.”
Meanwhile, RECSA, the Regional Center on Small Arms, earlier this year announced a gift to Liberia of security equipment to control the entry of arms at various border checkpoints. The security package included a portable MS-Scope metal detector, 30 pieces of metal scanners, two hardcore Dell Desktop Computers, three CPUS and one Windows 2012 R2-Service. w/pix of Pres. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf