ECOWAS foreign ministers take issue with Liberian rebels

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Foreign ministers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Tuesday took issue with the continuing fighting in Liberia's Lofa County, lamenting that rebel activity in the area was compromising regional efforts at forging peace in the country and the Mano River Union at large.
Meeting to finalise details on files lined up for this weekend's ECOWAS Summit in Dakar, the ministers zeroed in on the troubled Mano River Union while discussing a draft protocol supplementary to an existing instrument on conflict prevention and management.
The ministers regretted that the fighting in northern Liberia was exacerbating tensions in the region at a time when both ECOWAS and the international community were having trouble managing the fragile peace in neighbouring Sierra Leone but, more especially, coping with refugees strewn across border towns.
With the programme for disarming and rehabilitating rebels in Sierra Leone requiring some 5-7 million US dollars, ECOWAS has had to turn to the international community for assistance, sources close to the ministerial conference affirmed Tuesday.
Already short of the requisite resources for managing conflicts within the sub-region, the ECOWAS Foreign ministers found the persistence of rebel activity in Liberia simply outrageous.
They consequently recommended an international inquiry with a view to identifying the perpetrators of the continuing unrest, while reaffirming their attachment to the rule of democracy, an the acquisition of power via the ballot and not the bullet.
Guinea-Bissau also came under discussion, with the ministers observing that the situation there remained precarious, despite relative quiet on the ground.
On the economic plane, they insisted that the country was in dire need of external assistance to keep social strife at bay.
Other items featured in the countdown to Friday's summit proper included an assessment of progress towards actualising ECOWAS' mechanism for conflict prevention and management.
The ministers acknowledged what they said was considerable progress towards an additional protocol to the said instrument, highlighting democracy and good governance.
Concerning the pre-emption of conflicts, it was noted that monitoring zones have since been carved out for the sub-region, with the last agreement to that effect signed Tuesday morning with Benin.
Similar accords had earlier been concluded with Burkina Faso, the Gambia and Liberia, sources affirmed.
Appreciable progress was also noted concerning a sub-regional moratorium on the circulation of light arms, now in its third year of enforcement.
Conference sources said it was within the framework of the said moratorium that light arms were surrendered and destroyed in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali, adding that similar operations were in the pipeline.
Other moves in that direction include the training of border police and customs officers on controls against arms trafficking, with several seminars and workshops already conducted in Senegal and Sierra Leone.
Trafficking in persons was equally focused, and judicial instruments adopted for eventual tabling before the Heads of State at the two-day summit.

18 december 2001 15:42:00




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