1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 1041 (1996) of 29 January 1996, by which the Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) until 31 May 1996 and requested me to submit a progress report on the situation in Liberia by 31 March 1996. The present report provides an update on developments in Liberia since my report of 23 January 1996 (S/1996/47).
II. POLITICAL ASPECTS
2. The peace process in Liberia continues to encounter severe difficulties. During the period under review, there were setbacks on the military front and signs of discord between members of the Council of State.
3. On 28 December 1995, heavy fighting broke out at Tubmanburg as a result of unprovoked attacks on the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) by troops of General Roosevelt Johnson's wing of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO-J). Casualties were suffered by the combatants and by the civilian population. Despite the efforts of UNOMIL, the Liberian National Transitional Government (LNTG) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), ULIMO-J has yet to withdraw from Tubmanburg or return to ECOMOG the heavy weapons it seized during the fighting. Negotiations with General Johnson about the return of the weapons are stalemated. On 1 March 1996, ECOMOG withdrew from Tubmanburg, indicating that it would redeploy to the area only when the weapons had been returned.
4. As a result of discord within ULIMO-J, the Executive Council and commanders of that faction removed General Johnson as its Chairman on 2 March 1996 and installed General William Karyee as Acting Chairman. The faction leadership stated that General Johnson would remain a member of ULIMO-J and keep his Cabinet post as Minister for Rural Development.
5. On 4 March 1996, the Council of State held an emergency meeting to defuse the growing tensions arising from the stalemated peace process. At its conclusion, the Chairman reported that the Council of State had adopted rules and regulations governing its conduct and that, henceforth, only the Chairman would speak on behalf of the Council. This step was taken after statements by individual Council members had generated misunderstanding about its policies. The Council set the end of April 1996 as the deadline to extend civil administration to all parts of the country.
6. The Council of State condemned ULIMO-J for its attack against ECOMOG and the atrocities it committed against civilians in Tubmanburg and ordered it to return the weapons seized from ECOMOG. The Council also called on all Liberian factions to remove their checkpoints immediately and on ECOMOG to deploy throughout the country. It stated that, where and when necessary, ECOMOG would be assisted by national Liberian immigration and police officers.
7. Concerned that the conflict within ULIMO-J could create tension in other areas, particularly Monrovia and Kakata, the Council of State invited Generals Johnson and Karyee to a meeting at the executive mansion on 5 March 1996. General Johnson failed to attend the meeting. Thereafter, the Council decided to extend temporary recognition to the new ULIMO-J leadership, pending the return of ECOMOG's weapons and the removal of all its checkpoints in Tubmanburg. The Council also suspended General Johnson from his Cabinet post and requested ECOMOG to search his residence for weapons.
8. On 7 March 1996, as ECOMOG searched General Johnson's residence, persons loyal to him in Kakata abducted a UNOMIL military observer, threatening to execute him if General Johnson's life was placed in danger. Two other foreign nationals were also abducted. In addition, Johnson loyalists erected roadblocks in Kakata, virtually shutting down Liberia's main highway. Following negotiations between my Special Representative and General Johnson, the hostages were released, unharmed, on the same day.
9. On 8 March, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) took control of Kakata and Bong Mines from ULIMO-J, reportedly to ensure that the Monrovia-Gbarnga highway remained open (see map). The fighting which ensued resulted in a number of casualties. Councilman Charles Taylor, leader of NPFL, announced that Kakata and Bong Mines were to be handed over to ECOMOG and a civil administration took place on 11 March, and Kakata was declared a safe haven. While NPFL stated that it had handed over Kakata to ECOMOG on 21 March 1996, it has not yet withdrawn its forces from the area.
10. About 500 ULIMO-J fighters loyal to General Johnson, who participated in the fighting at Bong Mines and Kakata, surrendered to ECOMOG. They are encamped at its base at Fendell, just north of Monrovia. A team from UNOMIL, the Office of the Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) visited Fendell on 14 March and reported that the fighters, amongst whom were many child soldiers, expressed a desire to be demobilized. The ULIMO-J commander at Todee, 15 kilometres south-west of Kakata, reported to the team that about 1,000 more combatants were in the bush, waiting to surrender. Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) were also reported in the area. On 20 March, following consultations with ULIMO-J and LNTG, ECOMOG and UNOMIL, with the support of the Office of the Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator, commenced disarmament and demobilization of the combatants held at Fendell.
11. Renewed skirmishes between NPFL and the Liberian Peace Council (LPC) and harassment of the civilian population by fighters in the south-east have also threatened the peace process. Such hostilities between local factional forces have created discord and mistrust between faction leaders on the Council of State and increased tensions in Monrovia, where the leaders and some of their followers reside.
12. On 22 March 1996, fighting broke out between rival ULIMO-J forces in the eastern sections of Monrovia. On 23 March, the Council of State issued a warrant for the arrest of General Johnson, accusing him of the murder of a man found dead on his property. Since then, General Johnson has been confined to his residence.
13. The security situation in Monrovia has seriously deteriorated in recent months. Incidents of arms smuggling, shootings and armed robberies in the city have been increasingly reported. On 13 February 1996, a group of NPFL fighters forcibly stopped ECOMOG and the national police from searching for illegal arms in the eastern suburbs of Monrovia. ECOMOG and the police, fearing an outbreak of violence, withdrew their men and aborted the search. On 24 February, a shooting incident took place near the airport at the residence of Councilman George Boley, involving LPC fighters and the AFL Chief of Staff and his bodyguards.
14. The lack of progress in the peace process, as well as growing political tensions in Monrovia, prompted civilian groups to call for a "stay-at-home" on 15 February. The action was reportedly in protest at the failure of faction leaders to ensure the disarmament of their fighters. It prompted some members of the Council of State publicly to blame one another for the current state of the peace process. Divisions within the Council of State were also reported during negotiations with ECOWAS about the conclusion of the status-of-forces agreement, which were held at Monrovia from 5 to 8 February 1996. Nevertheless, the negotiations were concluded with the adoption, ad referendum, of a draft agreement. Both parties agreed to submit the draft to their respective decision-making bodies and to fix a date for the signing of the agreement.
15. On a more positive note, community leaders from some regions have initiated efforts to promote reconciliation among ethnic groups at the grass-roots level. On 6 March, the Gio-Mano and Krahn ethnic groups met at Monrovia and signed an Inter-Tribal pact of Reconciliation, Peace, Unity and Cooperation. This development was welcomed by the Council of State, which stressed that such efforts should be replicated in other regions of the country as a means of consolidating the peace process.
16. The ECOWAS Chiefs of Staff met at Monrovia from 18 to 19 March 1996 to review the status of the peace process. Their meeting was expected to be a precursor to a summit of the ECOWAS Committee of Nine, which was planned for 27 March but has since been postponed.
17. The Liberian Ad Hoc Elections Commission has begun the process of certifying political parties in preparation for the legislative and presidential elections, which, in accordance with the Abuja Agreement, are scheduled to take place on 20 August 1996. To day, certificates of authorization have been issued to three political parties, namely the Unity Party, the National Patriotic Party and the Labour Party. Seven other political parties, which had existed prior to the outbreak of the civil war, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation, agreeing to form an alliance during the elections.
18. My Special Representative is consulting the Ad Hoc Elections Commission and the Council of State on preparations for the elections. That Commission has appealed to the international community for logistic assistance to prepare for the elections. Given the delay in the commencement of disarmament and the continuing hostilities, some members of the Council of State have expressed apprehension about holding elections on schedule. Others, however, believe that the elections should be held on 20 August whether or not disarmament takes place.
19. The Security Council, in resolution 1020 (1995) of 10 November 1995, requested UNOMIL to observe and verify the election process, in consultation with the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and ECOWAS. In this connection, consultations have been initiated with OAU and ECOWAS. A technical mission will visit Liberia, as soon as conditions permit, to consult with LNTG, OAU and ECOWAS and to finalize the framework for UNOMIL's involvement in the observation and verification of the electoral process.
20. The electoral component of UNOMIL will deploy to Liberia in stages, in accordance with progress in the peace process. A senior electoral officer is being appointed to monitor the initial preparations for the elections. Depending on progress in disarmament and demobilization, I intend to appoint a Chief Electoral Officer in May/June 1996 to assist my Special Representative and finalize with LNTG, ECOWAS and OAU operational plans for the holding of elections. It is anticipated that the Chief Electoral Officer will be assisted by 6 county coordinators and 20 electoral teams, each comprising two United Nations volunteers, which will be deployed throughout the country. In addition, it is estimated that 200 international electoral observers will be required during the voting period to monitor and verify the elections.
IV. MILITARY ASPECTS
Status of the cease-fire
21. Although the Council of State on 6 March 1996 renewed its call to the factions to dismantle all checkpoints, the factions continue to control most areas of Liberia. Mutual distrust among them makes it unlikely that their forces will disengage until ECOMOG has deployed throughout the country.
22. In addition to the military activities mentioned in section II, reports were received of growing tensions in Buchanan, following rumours of possible infiltration by NPFL fighters. As a result, many civilians fled from Buchanan to more secure areas. The withdrawal of ECOMOG from Tubmanburg on 1 March left the area extremely vulnerable. Reports have been received of fighting among elements of ULIMO-J and with General Alhaji Kromah's wing of ULIMO (ULIMO-K) over control of the area. Currently, neither ECOMOG nor UNOMIL has a presence in Tubmanburg.
23. Councilman Taylor informed my Special Representative during a meeting with him on 21 March that NPFL had intervened in Kakata to establish security in the area. He stated that he would take similar action in other areas where the Council of State felt security was threatened and that such actions should not be treated as violations of the cease-fire.
24. At present, ECOMOG is deployed in Monrovia, Gbarnga, Buchanan, Greenville, Kakata, Suehn and Konola. ECOMOG has received an additional infantry battalion from Nigeria, increasing its total strength from approximately 7,000 to 7,500 troops, as well as 3 helicopters and 20 trucks as part of the logistic assistance pledged by the United States of America. Additional trucks are expected soon. Assistance pledged by other Member States, however, has yet to arrive in Liberia.
Deployment of the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia
25. UNOMIL currently has a total strength of 93 military observers (see annex). The UNOMIL disarmament team withdrew from Tubmanburg on 30 December 1995 because of fighting between ECOMOG and ULIMO-J. It was redeployed to the area on 31 January 1996 but was withdrawn a second time on 2 March, following the withdrawal of ECOMOG troops the previous day without prior notice to UNOMIL. The UNOMIL mobile and disarmament teams which withdrew from Kakata on 8 March because of fighting between NPFL and ULIMO-J were redeployed there on 23 March.
26. UNOMIL is currently deployed in Monrovia, Buchanan and Suehn. Regular patrolling, investigations of cease-fire violations and monitoring of the overall military and security situation remain the main tasks of the military observers. UNOMIL will redeploy to Tubmanburg as soon as the security situation stabilizes. Deployment to Greenville is expected to take place shortly, as soon as logistic requirements have been moved by ship to the area. UNOMIL deployment in other areas is contingent upon ECOMOG deployment, as well as the security situation. It should be noted, however, that LNTG has insisted on clearing UNOMIL's deployments and has not always provided the cooperation required on a timely basis.
V. DISARMAMENT AND DEMOBILIZATION
27. As noted in my last report, the National Disarmament and Demobilization Commission informed UNOMIL in December 1995 that LNTG wished to introduce significant changes to the disarmament and demobilization plan. UNOMIL, ECOWAS and ECOMOG undertook intensive consultations with the Commission to accommodate its concerns, without jeopardizing preparations for disarmament and demobilization which had already been made. On 1 March 1996, agreement was reached on a revised plan, which was subsequently forwarded to the Council of State. The plan is still awaiting the Council's approval.
28. The revised plan does not differ substantially from the original plan outlined in my report of 23 October (S/1995/881). However, the Commission has insisted that it must compile data on the number and precise location of combatants before the commencement of disarmament. In addition, given ECOMOG's logistic and manpower constraints, disarmament and demobilization will be undertaken in two consecutive phases, each lasting about four weeks. A total of 14 sites will be used, with 8 sites operational in each phase. About 50 per cent of each faction's combatants will be demobilized in each phase.
29. Reconnaissance of most disarmament and demobilization sites has been completed. Most of the facilities to be used are government property and it has taken some time for LNTG to turn these over for the use of UNOMIL. As at 15 March, rehabilitation work had been completed at four sites. National Disarmament and Demobilization Commission clearance for the rehabilitation of the additional sites is still pending. Sites for the final phase will be rehabilitated during the first phase to ensure there is no break in the process, thus allowing disarmament and demobilization to be completed within the time-frame of two months provided in the Abuja Agreement.
30. It has been suggested that the demobilization package does not provide sufficient incentive for combatants to disarm. However, given the lack of donor interest in providing such incentives (as was done in Mozambique, for example), it may not be possible to increase the present package on the basis of existing resources. Furthermore, it is felt that in Liberia the main incentive for demobilization will come from the reintegration assistance which ex-combatants and their families will receive.
31. Successful reintegration of demobilized soldiers will depend on the mechanisms and activities put in place to enable ex-combatants to pass smoothly from demobilization to the reintegration phase. While many will return immediately to civilian life in their home communities, projects have been defined, and funding provided under the UNOMIL budget, to employ ex-combatants with no other means of livelihood.
VI. HUMAN RIGHTS
32. The human rights situation deteriorated somewhat during the reporting period. Civilians in Grand Cape Mount County were subjected to serious abuse and harassment from ULIMO-K forces, including an alarming number of rape cases. It has also been reported that civilians have been robbed, beaten and forced to carry equipment for ULIMO-K.
33. In lower Bomi County unruly bands of ULIMO-J fighters have robbed, beaten, tortured and killed civilians and ransacked villages. Abuse from ULIMO-J has prompted the formation of civilian vigilante and self-defence brigades, often along ethnic lines. This has provoked further abuses from ULIMO-J forces.
34. During the fighting in Kakata on 8 March 1996, civilians were beaten and a number of women were reportedly raped by fighters. UNOMIL received credible reports - which could not be independently verified - that a small number of ULIMO-J fighters were executed in Kakata after the fighting. There are numerous reports of human rights abuses perpetrated by LPC fighters against civilian populations throughout the south-east. These reports include forced labour, robbery, beatings and killings.
35. On 27 February, the managing editor of the National newspaper was injured when he was detained while attending a meeting with the Minister of Justice. This was in apparent retribution for an article he published reporting that NPFL had established a hit squad in Monrovia, partly composed of NPFL fighters allegedly responsible for attacking civilians in Tapeta in September 1995. The editor has since been released on bond and charged with the criminal offence of "false public alarm". In late January, two journalists from the Observer newspaper were mistreated when they were detained at the orders of the Director of Police after the paper published an article critical of NPFL. The journalists were charged with "criminal malevolence".
36. On several occasions, UNOMIL formally requested the Justice Ministry to clarify the status of five NPFL fighters detained by NPFL in October 1995 who were accused of responsibility for civilian casualties in the Tapeta incident. In December 1995, UNOMIL verified that these men were detained in Gbarnga, but since then no clarification on their status has been received from the Ministry of Justice.
37. At present, one human rights officer is assigned to UNOMIL. Given the amount of work required to implement fully UNOMIL's human rights mandate, I plan to deploy two additional human rights officers to the mission and to upgrade the level of the current human rights post.
VII. HUMANITARIAN ASPECTS
38. Because of increased insecurity, the progress made by the humanitarian community over the past several months in reaching inaccessible communities could not be sustained during the reporting period. Humanitarian workers in all parts of the country have been harassed by fighters, their convoys held up and supplies looted. As a result, some non-governmental organizations suspended all but emergency operations during four days in February. Security constraints have made Lofa County virtually inaccessible to the humanitarian community since December 1995, except for the cross-border activities of non-governmental organizations. Relief convoys to the south-east have been suspended. Previously accessible areas, such as Tubmanburg, Bomi County and Grand Cape Mount County have also become inaccessible. As a result, populations in need, including 100,000 refugees from Sierra Leone, cannot be reached by relief organizations.
39. The fighting in Kakata temporarily disrupted the delivery of humanitarian assistance to northern areas. This incident, together with the current political and military situation, has prompted some non-governmental organizations operating in Bong and Nimba counties to relocate some of their staff temporarily to Côte d'Ivoire. However, non-governmental organizations have maintained a presence in these counties as well as in Rivercess, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe and Margibi, where the humanitarian community continues to provide assistance. This has taken the form of provision of relief, implementation of health and agricultural programmes, the registration and resettlement of spontaneous returnees from Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea, the rehabilitation of water supply and bridges and the tracing of families in Liberia, as well as in neighbouring countries.
40. The Office of the Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator has been particularly active in facilitating and coordinating the movement of relief convoys wherever possible, in collaboration with UNOMIL, ECOMOG and LNTG. At the same time, my Special Representative and the Humanitarian Coordinator have intensified efforts to ensure a secure working environment for the humanitarian community. In addition, contingency plans are being developed to prepare for any influx of people into Monrovia and other safe zones which may be caused by the recent fighting in the south-east and in Margibi and Bomi counties.
41. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has concluded a regional plan of operation for the repatriation of the more than 700,000 Liberian refugees and has issued an appeal for $60 million for this purpose. I urge the international community to respond generously to the appeal. UNHCR is also initiating reintegration projects in Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties for approximately 30,000 spontaneous returnees from Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. Recently, the High Commissioner visited Liberian refugee settlements in the region.
42. After extensive consultations with LNTG, the Council of State expressed its support for a national reintegration framework programme, which was developed in collaboration with the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Efforts are being made to ensure that the programme receives a wide consensus among the humanitarian community and donors. With a case-load of 1.4 million internally displaced and war-affected persons, the reintegration programme will focus on community-based assistance, implemented through Area Reintegration and Development Units/Centres that will be established throughout the country under the overall authority of LNTG. The Units/Centres will assist local authorities with resettlement and reintegration tasks and play a coordinating and linking role with activities for ex-combatants, returnees and internally displaced persons.
VIII. ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL ACTIVITIES
43. The socio-economic recovery of Liberia depends on the restoration of peace, security and political stability. While the productive sectors of the economy (iron ore, rubber, logging) remain virtually paralysed, and the physical infrastructure significantly downgraded, economic activities are gradually increasing in Monrovia, Buchanan and other areas where relative security exists. The gains achieved so far in the peace process have allowed for the cautious initiation of transitional activities from humanitarian relief to rehabilitation and reconstruction. In this connection, the UNDP Administrator visited Liberia from 21 to 23 January.
44. At the Conference on Assistance to Liberia, held in New York on 27 October 1995, it was decided that a follow-up special consultative meeting would be held in the first quarter of 1996 to harmonize planning and financing for recovery activities. In preparation for that meeting, a joint UNDP/World Bank mission visited Liberia from 18 February to 2 March 1996. Subsequently, core teams of national experts were established to undertake rapid technical assessments of critical development areas, including education, food security, health, information systems, infrastructure, private sector, public administration, resettlement and the profile and status of returnees.
45. The teams will focus on refining the allocation of resources for ongoing programmes and projects. In addition, they will prepare an integrated macroeconomic/sector framework for rehabilitation and reconstruction. This work, which is expected to be completed in the next few months, is led by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs and carried out in collaboration with LNTG, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and major donors.
46. In recent months, the International Monetary Fund fielded two missions to Liberia to review the tax system and expenditure management procedures and set forth several recommendations to improve Liberia's fiscal performance. It is envisaged that a technical assistance programme, focusing on fiscal issues, will be developed for Liberia. An African Development Bank mission has also recently visited Liberia to assess the socio-economic situation and progress in the peace process. The Bank has indicated interest in assisting Liberia in debt management.
47. For the first time since the outbreak of the Liberian civil war, members of the Mano River Union (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) met at Monrovia from 14 to 16 February 1996 for a subregional consultative meeting on private sector development. The meeting identified and addressed the main problems of private sector development in the subregion. A study is being prepared on various proposals to enhance private sector involvement in reconstruction and development and to foster regional cooperation.
IX. FINANCIAL ASPECTS
48. In my previous report (S/1996/47), I indicated that the General Assembly had authorized me to enter into commitments in the amount of $12,169,600 gross for the maintenance of UNOMIL for the period from 1 February to 31 March 1996. In this regard, my report on the financing of UNOMIL (A/50/650/Add.2), which is currently before the General Assembly, indicates that the additional cost for the maintenance of UNOMIL for the remainder of the current mandate through 31 May 1996 will amount to $3,207,000 gross. Resource requirements associated with the full deployment of the electoral component, as outlined in paragraph 20 above, will be sought from the General Assembly in due course.
49. As at 15 March 1996, unpaid assessed contributions to the UNOMIL special account since the inception of the Mission totalled $22.6 million. The total outstanding assessed contributions for all peace-keeping operations on 15 March 1996 amounted to $1,889 million.
50. Since my last report, Egypt has made a contribution of $10,000 to the Trust Fund for the Implementation of the Cotonou Agreement in Liberia. As at 15 March 1996, total contributions received amounted to some $24 million, with authorized expenditure totalling some $21.9 million.
51. The situation in Liberia is rapidly deteriorating and I fear that, unless the peace process is put back on track in the very near future, the consequences could be disastrous. The civilian population and even some combatants have demonstrated a strong desire for peace. They are frustrated, however, by the failure of the Council of State and the faction leaders to muster the political will and determination required to implement the Abuja Agreement, in particular its disarmament and demobilization aspects, which are essential for the restoration of durable peace.
52. The commencement of disarmament and demobilization can no longer be delayed. I therefore call on the Council of State to approve the disarmament and demobilization plan immediately, as well as to ensure that the factions are ready to disarm by 30 April. I expect the Council of State to make sure that the Liberian National Transitional Government, the National Disarmament and Demobilization Commission and the factions extend the necessary cooperation to ECOMOG and the United Nations in implementing the process. I will report to the Security Council before the expiration of UNOMIL's mandate on 31 May so that it may take the appropriate decisions, in the light of progress made in this regard.
53. The implementation of the Abuja Agreement is ultimately the responsibility of the Council of State and, especially, the faction leaders. Nevertheless, as I have repeatedly stated, ECOMOG must be provided with the necessary resources to carry out the tasks entrusted to it. The international community has on a number of occasions expressed its commitment to supporting the efforts of ECOMOG. While ECOMOG has recently received some assistance, particularly from the United States, it still lacks the additional manpower and logistic capabilities required to deploy throughout the country in order to establish a secure environment for the implementation of the peace process.
54. The international community needs to take urgent action to enable ECOMOG to discharge its mandate. So far, the failure to provide the necessary resources has given an opportunity to the factions to procrastinate and renege on their commitments. In the absence of a resolute effort to address the resource requirements of ECOMOG, the present drift in the peace process may continue, further undermining security in Liberia. The international community may ultimately face a major humanitarian disaster that could destabilize the subregion. Such a disaster would be far more costly, in the long run, than providing ECOMOG with the means to carry out its responsibilities under the Abuja Agreement.