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Liberians angry by walkouts at disarmament meeting

29th November 2003

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War-weary Liberians reacted angrily yesterday after former fighters in the country's back-to-back civil wars quit a disarmament meeting, and warned them not to hamper the return of peace after 14 years of bloodshed.

Former combatants from militias loyal to former president Charles Taylor and rebel movements, which fought to oust him on Thursday accused Liberia's interim leader Gyude Bryant of violating a power-sharing pact by appointing government ministers without their input.

Then, they walked out of high-level disarmament talks.

"Now that the warring factions have created the environment for exiled former president Charles Taylor to leave they should not give any pre-conditions for disarming their fighters," David Kiazolu, the secretary general of the Inter-religious Council of Liberia, said.

"They should not be seen as trading off because thousands of people lost their lives for them to get where they are today".

The west African state has been under a fragile peace since August, when Taylor, a warlord who rose to power after sparking the first civil war in 1989, bowed to crushing international pressure and fled into exile in Nigeria.

A power-sharing pact established a transitional government, including Taylor loyalists and the rebels who took up arms against, tasked with leading the country of 3,3-million to elections in 2005.

On Thursday, the former rivals in war demanded that a programme led by the UN mission in Ivory Coast, UNMIL, to disarm ex-fighters due to start Monday be delayed "pending the settlement of violations of the accord by the chairperson," former government fighter Emmanuel Lomax said.

Lomax said the rebel Liberians United for Democracy and Reconciliation (Lurd)- whose uprising in 1999 against Taylor sparked the second civil war - and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model) shared the view of their former adversaries.

After making their demands, the former fighters quit the meeting at the presidential palace in the capital Monrovia that was also attended by government, UNMIL and Economic Community of West African States officials.

"They should not make us angry. We are no longer afraid of them," an angry Monrovia commuter said yesterday, refusing to give his name.

"And if they give us the cause, we will join UNMIL to chase them out of the country".

"If they continue, we the civilians will leave the nation with UNMIL and go elsewhere," said Joe Blayee, a driver for one of the myriad non-governmental organisations trying to provide humanitarian assistance to the shattered nation.

UNMIL said Thursday the walkout had jeopardised prospects for peace and condemned it as a "total disregard" for the 3,3-million Liberians who survived years of war.

"They walked out of the meeting, failing to adopt the (disarmament) programme that will provide their combatants with monetary incentives, food, medical treatment, vocational training, educational opportunities and a chance for a better future," a UN statement said.

"Their actions demonstrate their total disregard for the welfare and well-being not only of their combatants but of the 3,3-million citizens of Liberia whose interests they claim to represent, and who have suffered 14 long years in purgatory hoping for a better future".

Jacques Klein, the UN special envoy to Liberia, said Friday he was "determined to see the disarmament take place on schedule". – Sapa-AFP.
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