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UNMIL returns security control to Liberia

Chrispin MwakideuJune 30, 2016

From now on, protecting security in Liberia is back in the hands of the country's own security forces. The UN's UNMIL mission that did the job for the last 13 years will now play only a small support role.

Three UN soldiers in the Liberian capital Monrovia
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

On Thursday June 30, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) handed over responsibility for security to the West African country. UNMIL took control of security in Liberia after devastating back-to-back civil wars that left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced many thousands more. Since the launch of a peacekeeping mission in September 2003, UNMIL has been responsible for the country's security. It has worked to rebuild police and military forces from scratch and disarmed rebels. DW spoke to Waldemar Vrey, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for UNMIL, on the challenges ahead.

DW: Mr Frey, is Liberia ready to assume security responsibilities?

Waldemar Vrey: For the past 13 years we have invested quite a lot in the capacity building of the different institutions. Particularly in the last 24 months we have put a very strong focus on the transition from the UN to the government of Liberia. We think that everything is not perfect - probably every country's security institutions will let you know that they don't have everything they need - but we think that with the support and with the functioning of all the different structures, they should be ready to take care of the future.

Who exactly are you handing over to - is it the police or the military? Who exactly will be in charge of security in Liberia now?

The military has also been built from scratch. This has mostly been a bilateral support that they received from the US. They have built a small army that is capable of ensuring the sovereignty of Liberia. The UN has focused mostly on the Liberian national police and the Bureau for Migration and Naturalization to provide support to them. Let me say that it is the law and order environment where we have focused. So we would be looking at them assuming responsibilities for security by July 1. It is not an overnight handover that takes place but actually a culmination of a well planned transition process.

There are some concerns that the underlying factors which led to the civil wars have not been fully addressed in Liberia What is your take on that?

We do sense that there is still work required within society to build trust and social cohesion between all the different communities. Through support from the peace building commission, some of this work will be carrying on into the future. We are in agreement that continued support will be provided to the Liberian government and Liberian society so that they can work on these outstanding issues.

The Ebola outbreak highlighted the fragility and vulnerability of Liberian institutions, and UNMIL, as you said, has been trying to strengthen these institutions. Isn't UNMIL now taking a big gamble by pulling out of Liberia?

You are correct in saying that this terrible crisis has delayed many of the activities that we wanted to have in place and it required an extraordinary national focus from Liberia to deal with and overcome the challenges of Ebola. What we saw during this time was really a nation pulling together rather than fragmenting. The way in which they, as a nation, responded to the threat of Ebola actually contributed to the confidence we have that they can and do have the ability to pull things together.

Waldemar Vrey is the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for UNMIL

Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu