'Fragile' peace in Liberia as mission deadline looms: UN
Peace in Liberia remains "fragile" 13 years after the end of civil war, a top UN peacekeeping official has said, as the world body considers whether to withdraw its longstanding mission in the country.
UN peacekeepers largely ensured the country's security until June when they handed over to retrained domestic forces, ahead of a Security Council decision in December on whether to pull out its remaining personnel.
Government forces and rebel groups raped, maimed and massacred hundreds of thousands of people during two conflicts between 1989 and 2003, and the highly politicised police and army were disbanded after committing some of the worse abuses.
After completing a two-week assessment of the country's security capabilities and political institutions, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, El Ghassim Wane, said Thursday the west African nation had come a long way but remained vulnerable.
"Liberians should be proud of their country's assumption of full responsibility for its own security on 30 June, which is a major milestone in consolidating peace," he said in a statement released by the UN.
"But building peace is a long-term endeavour, and while Liberia is on the right track, all of our interlocutors recognised that peace remains fragile."
Wane's recommendations will be used by the Security Council to seal the fate of the mission, known as UNMIL, which at its height counted 15,000 peacekeepers compared with just over 1,800 today.
A key flashpoint could be a presidential election due next year, which will represent the first time Liberia's own security forces have overseen an event of such national importance, Wane added.
The broadly unifying figure of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will be absent from the 2017 vote, which is likely to be contested by several former warlords.
Despite being revamped, Liberia's police force is chronically underfunded, with basic equipment in short supply, salaries paltry and the number of armed officers in the low hundreds of a 5,170-strong corps.
Wane said his team had observed "a number of concerns about the remaining gaps in logistics and training of the security institutions."