UNMIL to Maintain 1, 240 ‘Strong’ Force Until 2017 Elections

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The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) and Coordinator of United Nations Operations in Liberia, Farid Zarif, has assured Liberians that the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is not about to cut and run from the country. Rather, Mr. Zarif said UNMIL will still have 1,240 strong military personnel and 606 police officers on the ground after the June drawdown date.

UNMIL consisted of up to 15,000 United Nations military personnel and 1,115 police officers, along with a civilian component when it was established as a peacekeeping force in 2003.

The force would be used to assist the Liberian security forces in “extreme situations,” he said.

“UNMIL shall step in to help Liberia deal with any situation which would threaten a strategic reversal of the progress we have made together,” Zarif assured.

He spoke at a reception that marked the 70th anniversary of the United Nations held at the headquarters of UNMIL last Thursday, in Monrovia.

The UN, he said, was born out of hope that a better world could be built, following the destruction brought about by World War II.

Mr. Zarif said the UN family came to the aid of Liberia, but working hand in hand with its leaders and people helped to maintain peace over the past 12 years, adding, “This is an achievement we all should be proud of—the entire UN family, international partners, but most of all, Liberians.”

He said the UN Security Council recognized the achievement when it set the deadline of June 30, 2016, for Liberia to assume full responsibility for all aspects of its security.

The security of Liberia, he said, is also in the hands of Liberians themselves. But he expressed absolute confidence that Liberia’s security will be able to meet those challenges as the UNMIL drawdown progresses.

The SRSG said the UN family will remain a strong partner of the Liberian people and together, will make progress on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which were recently adopted in New York.

He thanked President Sirleaf and the Liberian people for beating back Ebola, a disease that frightened the entire world, noting that the country was the worst hit in the region, but by mobilizing communities and pulling resources together, it succeeded in being the first to defeat this common enemy with help from the UN and other partners.

In her statement, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf reaffirmed government’s commitment to implement UNMIL drawdown plans being fully cognizant of the security vacuum that will be created and the election challenges in 2017.

“Government reaffirms its commitment to the implementation of the drawdown plan and our own preparedness to take on the responsibility of peace and stability in our country,” the President said.

She acknowledged the gap the departure of UNMIL will create, and the huge challenge the 2017 election poses, but said she remains confident that Liberia can take over its own security and manage it well.

President Sirleaf assured Liberians that government will count on the participation of every citizen to protect the hard earned peace, adding, “Having enjoyed over a decade of peace as a result of efforts by the gallant men and women of UNMIL, Liberians are resolved to commit themselves to sustaining the peace even after UNMIL departs the country.”

She recounted Liberia’s involvement with the formation of the UN, changing from the League of Nations to the United Nations in 1945, during its gathering in San Francisco, United States; noting that Liberia was always there as an active member.

“We tried to give a sober reflection on Liberia‘s involvement with the UN, through its diplomat, Angie Brooks Randolph (deceased), who later became the first African woman president of the UN General Assembly,” the President said.

The first woman President of the UN General Assembly was Madam Pandit of India.

President Sirleaf then reminded the gathering of the importance of applauding the UN for its own internal achievements and its handling of crises around the world as well as its adoption of Resolution 1335 in support of women’s rights during subsequent years.

The President meanwhile thanked UNMIL for the significant role it played in driving the deadly Ebola virus disease from the country.

UNMIL is a peace-keeping force established in September 2003 to monitor a ceasefire agreement in Liberia following the resignation of President Charles Taylor and the conclusion of the Second Liberian Civil War. It consisted of up to 15,000 United Nations military personnel and 1,115 police officers, along with a civilian component. It superseded the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL).

The UNMIL force is being gradually withdrawn but will retain at least 1, 240 military personnel through the 2017 elections as disclosed by the SRSG Zarif.

The reception ceremony was graced by senior government officials and representatives of diplomatic missions in Liberia, among others.

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