Gunfight Marks Start of U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia
Fighting erupted in the capital city as the United Nations took control from the interim West African peacekeepers. Liberians blamed the surge of violence on U.N. peacekeepers because they allowed rebel leader Sekou Conneh to visit the city for the first time since the peace deal was made.
“The U.N. is responsible for this, they want us to die,” people in the streets chanted as they gathered around the bodies of the three dead civilians — two who were shot and the other stabbed with a bayonet, Reuters reported.
When Conneh first drove through the Paynesville suburb to meet President Moses Blah, stones were thrown. From there, the violence escalated. Shots were fired, igniting a 20-minute gun battle, leading to the civilians’ deaths.
“I am very disappointed, I feel terrible,” said Edwin Snow, the government mediator responsible for the meeting. “It was my hope that the U.N. forces would have taken over the security.”
Thousands of civilians fled the neighborhood in eastern Monrovia, while an angry crowd gathered around the West African peacekeepers, demanding to know why they had not averted the battle, the Associated Press reported.
The clash illustrates the problems that still face troops tasked with securing a peace deal following former President Charles Taylor’s Aug. 11 resignation.
U.N. forces will build up to 15,000 troops, 1,115 police, 250 military observers and 160 staff officers over the next four to six months. Such a large U.N. deployment has not been used since early last year in Sierra Leone, Reuters reported.
The last of more than 100 U.S. Marines sent to assist the West African forces left the country late Tuesday. The United States is considering sending a very small contingent to help the U.N. peacekeepers, according to the AP.
The West African troops — who were already in Liberia as part of the ECOMIL mission, the military wing of Economic Community of West African States — were given U.N. blue berets in a ceremony Wednesday to mark the transfer of power for the mission. The United Nations called the ceremony “a symbolic rehatting.”
U.N. peacekeepers hope to repeat the success of Sierra Leone, where troops disarmed 47,000 rebel and government fighters.
On Tuesday, Kenya’s Daniel Opande was appointed head of the Liberia force.
“The job is not going to be easy … but I am confident that with the support of the international community and the people of Africa we will accomplish peace in Liberia,” Opande told reporters in Freetown, Sierra Leone.