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Their 15-year mission a success, UN peacekeepers depart a stable and grateful Liberia

30 Mar 2018

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New York, Mar 30 : The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Liberia will formally cease operations on Friday after aiding the West African nation’s transition from ravaging civil war to a hopeful era of peace.

The conclusion of the 15-year operation follows a landmark election that resulted in the country’s first transfer of power from one elected president to another in 70 years.  The newly elected President, George Manneh Weah, spoke for many Liberians as he thanked the UN for helping to make that possible.

“In our darkest days, the UN stood with us,” he said in his inaugural address in January.  

Weah, a former football star, won the presidency in a runoff election in December, succeeding Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who had served since 2006.

Speaking at an event last week in the capital, Monrovia, to mark the completion of the peacekeeping mission, known as UNMIL, he pledged that the good work of the UN will not be forgotten. “We will not fight again, we promise you,” he said.

More than a quarter of a million Liberians were killed and nearly a third of the population was uprooted.  By some reports, 80 per cent of Liberian women and girls suffered conflict-related sexual violence. Liberia, the first independent country in Africa, enjoyed nearly a century and a half of stability before falling into chaos, enduring two devastating civil wars between 1989 and 2003.

The Security Council established the peacekeeping mission for Liberia in October 2003, as violence lingered even after warring factions agreed to a cease-fire and a plan for political rebuilding.  

As peacekeepers first arrived, “the entire country was in turmoil,” recalled Lt. Gen. Daniel Opande, the first commander of UN forces in Liberia, in a recent interview.  “People were moving from place to place, looking for safety or for food.”  

A newly secure environment enabled more than a million refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes. The Government established its authority throughout the country and by now has successfully held three presidential elections.

Some 16,000 personnel from more than a dozen countries served with UNMIL.  Their service did not come without sacrifice; 200 peacekeepers lost their lives due to illness, accidents or other causes while serving in Liberia.    

Though peace remains elusive in many regions where UN forces have been deployed for years, the auspicious conclusion of the Liberia mission represents a success for UN peacekeeping, which has 110,000 men and women deployed in 15 operations worldwide.

Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed noted during her visit to Liberia last week that a generation ago, Liberia and Sierra Leone were in “freefall,” and Côte d'Ivoire was embroiled in crisis. Peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire have already completed their mandates.

And now, she noted, “the closure of UNMIL marks the transition of all three countries to peace and democracy.”

In a sobering statement to the Security Council in New York this week, Secretary-General António Guterres praised the peacekeeping successes in West Africa but highlighted the “serious challenges” that confront ongoing deployments in several other African countries.

Guterres called for advances in military equipment and preparedness, stronger measures to fight sexual exploitation and abuse and more clarity on the limits and roles of UN forces.  

“Put simply,” he said, “peace operations cannot succeed if they are deployed instead of a political solution, rather than in support of one.”

UN Photo/Staton Winter




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