The United Nations Mission in Liberia has begun the next phase in its drawdown of military troops in the country. The world body says this is a significant step forward in the post-war peace process. But, many Liberians worry that a reduced military presence could bring about security problems in already fragile communities.
The United Nations Mission in Liberia, known as UNMIL, shut down its military camp in northern Liberia’s Foya District, last week.
UNMIL has essentially been in charge of security in Liberia since August 2003, shortly after a ceasefire was declared in the second civil war.
This closure was the latest move by the U.N. in transferring security responsibilities to the Liberian government as Liberia Minister of Information Lewis Brown explains.
“UNMIL will gradually reduce its military presence from almost 8,000 today to 3,750 by July 2015. At the same time, UNMIL has increased its police presence in Liberia to support the Liberian National Police. This includes UNMIL’s capacity to provide a quick and effective response to any security incidents,” Brown stated.
The United Nations first scaled down its initial deployment of 15,000 troops to around 8,000 between 2007 and 2010. In September 2012, the U.N. Security Council decided to reduce further the number UNMIL troops by 4,200.
This decision was not wholly embraced by the Liberian government. Brown says his government requested a slower phased withdrawal at meetings in December. “The departure of UNMIL from this camp and other camps will create human and logistical gaps for the GoL [Government of Liberia] to fill,” he said.
Despite reservations in Monrovia, Isabelle Abric - the chief of public information for UNMIL - says the latest reduction is a significant step forward for Liberia.
“It’s actually a sign of success and just shows that Liberian security has increased, has grown stronger," Abric noted. "It was not a decision that the Security Council just took like that. It was after assessing the capacity of the Liberian security agencies in general.”
Many Liberians, however, particularly those in the north of the country where fighting continued even after the 2003 cease-fire, say they have no faith in Liberian security forces.
Terry Myers, a businessman from Foya District’s Lofa County, said, “I’m very afraid. I don’t trust the Liberian army. We need a U.N. committee. Liberia is just from war and we a need presence of army. This news is very sad. "I’m afraid of the future of Liberia. If U.N. military leaves, something needs to be done now.”
Abric says the world body understands such concerns and Liberians should not worry. “Of course, there have been fear and expectations of people, but again, it’s a very gradual process and the military troops are reducing," she explained. "But special police forces are increasing and it’s a very gradual process.”
Abric said that even though UNMIL is removing some of their permanent military troops from the country, the United Nations will continue to maintain a UNMIL civilian and a U.N. police presence, as well as continuing to work with the Liberian government to build up security institutions and maintain peace.
An additional 420 U.N. police officers are set to be deployed in the coming months to help with the transition.