The planned withdrawal of US troops from Liberia in the coming week before the full deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force will leave already vulnerable Liberian civilians even more open to attack, international agency Oxfam warned today.
“Beyond Monrovia, the law of the gun still reigns,” said Oxfam’s Raphael Sindaye. “The US presence has been symbolically and strategically important. People are very afraid that their pullout before the UN force is established will leave a deadly vacuum that will allow murder, violence and intimidation to increase”.
The United States has had three warships with around 2,300 troops stationed off the coast of Liberia since August. They have been conducting patrols by helicopter, and providing limited on-the-ground support to the 3500-strong West African peacekeeping force, ECOMIL. A United Nations force is due to assume peacekeeping duties as of 1st October, but is unlikely to reach its target of 15,000 troops for some time.
“The presence of the US warships and troops – especially their helicopters flying over the city and the camps – has reassured Liberians and deterred some of the armed militias who are harassing people throughout the country,” said Sindaye.
In spite of an August 18th peace agreement, which paved the way for a new government to take power in Liberia in mid-October, the situation in the country remains precarious. More than 500,000 people are still homeless and many are prey to continuing violence and insecurity.
Oxfam staff in Liberia are particularly concerned that the Americans’ departure will lead to increased abuses in camps for displaced people in Montserrado County just outside of Monrovia. Displaced families who have started returning to these camps from makeshift shelters in the city center report harassment by armed men, particularly at night.
Oxfam is working to provide clean water, toilets and hygiene training to thousands of displaced people in Monrovia and in camps in Montserrado county and Bong County to the north of the capital.