The UN Security Council has lifted its arms embargo on Liberia for one year, primarily to allow its peacekeeping mission there to receive military equipment. But it also allows the government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to acquire arms and training to fight crime.
Government misuse of force under former President Charles Taylor brought about the arms embargo 10 years ago. Its lifting, even temporarily, has been met with both pride and worry among Liberians still recovering from a long civil war.
Businessman Matthew Wesseh says the move recognizes the progress the government has made to restore security in Liberia.
“It is the constitutional responsibility of the government to protect its citizens against external forces,” he said. “We are not opting for external aggression. But it is within the purview of every government the world over to protect its citizens.”
More than arms, Wesseh says it is the proper training of security forces that will prevent a repeat of abuses under former President Taylor and former President Samuel Doe.
“My government, the government of Liberia, must be in a position to treat this issue with care and caution so that those who are going to carry arms in this country must be people who are trained, who understand that indeed the issue of human rights is around, and nobody can use their arms to suppress or intimidate any peaceful citizen in this country and think that he or she will get away with impunity,” he added.
The United Nations is helping to train a new generation of soldiers and police in Liberia.
Student Amazee Quayesee hopes arming that new police force will reduce violent crime.
“Armed robbery in this country is on the rampage,” he said. “The government is trying to put in mechanisms to stop it, but it is still going on the rampage. So for me, I feel the arms embargo that was lifted by the international community is very, very helpful for the government to protect its citizens.”
Youth leader E. Barclay Carr says there is no shortage of weapons in Liberia. He fears the embargo’s suspension will only lead to more crime.
“There is a security implication relative to the arms embargo being lifted,” he noted.
Carr says the history of Liberia’s struggle makes it too unstable a place for more weapons.
“In Liberia, for nearly 15 years, people got used to arms,” he added. “People used arms for their survival. So now if the arms embargo has been lifted, people will start trading arms in this country.”
Businessman Francis Manney agrees that it is too soon to suspend the embargo.
“To me I feel it is inappropriate now to lift the arms embargo for the fact that the peace in Liberia is fragile,” he said. “The total manpower of the military that should have been trained has not reached the mark. Our borders are still vulnerable.”
Manney is concerned by the instability in neighboring Guinea and by supporters of former President Taylor who are angry about his ongoing trial for crimes against humanity.
“There are people who are having mixed feelings among themselves,” he added. “And so these people have the power. They have the finances. Now if you should lift the arms embargo today, I am afraid that there will be many arms smuggled into Liberia, and it will cause serious problems for Liberia, because there is still some divide in our Liberian society.”
Recognizing Liberia’s still-fragile peace, the Security Council extended its travel ban on key members of the Taylor administration. The UN says its force remains in charge of overall security in Liberia. It sees the temporary lifting of the arms embargo as a chance for the current government to fight crime, help secure its borders, and combat piracy and smuggling.