Press Releases

    SG/SM/9150
    AFR/828
    DEV/2462
    9 February 2004

    UN Strongly Committed to Working with Liberians to Establish Rule of Law, Promote Transparency, Pursue Justice, Secretary-General Tells Reconstruction Conference

    NEW YORK, 6 February (UN Headquarters) --  Following is the text of opening remarks, as delivered by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the International Reconstruction Conference on Liberia, in New York today:

    It is a pleasure to welcome all of you to this important international conference on the future of Liberia.  I would like to thank the Government of the United States and the World Bank for co-hosting this event with the United Nations.  I would also like to thank the current Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and ECOWAS member States, for the crucial role they have played in the Liberia peace process.  And I believe there are many Ministers from the region who are also here.  Ministers, I welcome you to this event.  I would like to offer a special welcome to the National Transitional Government of Liberia, and thank Chairman Bryant for coming to New York during this difficult period.

    For most of the past 14 years, Liberia has been consumed by a tragic and ruinous cycle of conflict and misrule.  Tens of thousands of people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes.  Most of what little infrastructure there was has been destroyed.  Fear and mistrust remain widespread, as does scepticism about the sustainability of the peace process, given that so many dashed hopes have occurred in the past.

    Yet -- thanks to the resilience of the country’s people, the willingness of the main protagonists to seek, at long last, a peaceful resolution of their differences, and goodwill on the part of the international community and particularly the leaders in the region -- Liberia today has arrived at a moment of hope.

    The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed last August in Accra began a political process that offers the country its best chance in many years of regaining the path of peaceful development.  The Transitional Government and Legislative Assembly are now in place.  The United Nations Mission in Liberia is making good progress, with more than 10,000 troops and civilian personnel now on the ground to restore stability, facilitate implementation of the peace agreement, and help Liberians move towards free and fair elections by next year.  Indeed, the Security Council has authorized the deployment of a strong, multifaceted operation, and I will do my utmost to ensure that it carries out its mandate in an effective and integrated manner.

    This reconstruction conference is meant to demonstrate international solidarity with Liberia at a decisive moment.  A needs assessment report is now before you.  Prepared by the United Nations Development Group and the World Bank, it reflects the guidance and leadership of the Transitional Government and is a model, not only of collaboration, but also of national ownership.  That attitude  -- that essential understanding by Liberian leaders and people of their paramount responsibility for their future -- bodes well for the recovery and reconstruction effort.

    The overriding concern, as we move forward, will be security -- which is actually many concerns in one:

    -- There is an urgent need to consolidate and extend the security perimeter beyond the capital into rural areas;

    -- Liberia’s armed forces need to be completely restructured and retrained into a cohesive, disciplined military institution;

    -- Some 53,000 former combatants, including child soldiers with special needs, must be properly demobilized and effectively reintegrated into society, with skills and opportunities to earn a living; and

    -- There is a pressing need to curb the ominous, continuous movement of mercenaries and flows of illicit arms.  In this area, subregional organizations such as ECOWAS and the Mano River Union can play a significant role.

    Indeed, there is a widespread understanding that Liberia’s reconstruction is a regional issue, as well.  If the demobilization process is not effective, this could have destabilizing effects on Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone.  The regional dimension also extends to the repatriation of non-Liberian combatants, and the resettlement of 300,000 Liberians seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, as well as refugees from those countries who are currently in Liberia.

    Liberia’s dire needs in other areas are equally compelling.  Less than 10 per cent of Liberians have access to health care.  Public institutions need support, and the Transitional Government needs to extend itself to the countryside.  Progress will also be a function of how well Liberians address the long-standing democratic deficit -- the impunity, poor governance and widespread violations of basic human rights and international humanitarian law that have prevailed in the country for far too long.  The United Nations is strongly committed to working closely with all Liberians to establish the rule of law, to build up an independent judiciary, to promote transparency, and to pursue justice for the crimes and abuses that have been committed.

    Finally, as we gather today to raise funds for reconstruction, I must remind you that recent humanitarian appeals for Liberia remain largely unfunded.  Long-term reconstruction and short-term humanitarian assistance may be separate in concept and in the way they are funded, but ultimately they are closely linked.  It will be hard, if not impossible, for Liberians to start rebuilding their country while large numbers of war victims still lack the most basic necessities of life.

    It is, first and foremost, the responsibility of the people of Liberia to turn their backs on violence and sustain the peace process. Their leaders in particular must urgently overcome their difficulties, and move ahead with national reconciliation. But the international community will still be an essential partner.  In that spirit, I ask you to contribute the resources needed for the reconstruction of Liberia.  I urge you to do so willingly and generously.  I also appeal to ECOWAS and, in particular, the Mano River Union neighbours of Liberia, to continue actively supporting the peace process.

    Let us all seize this moment to end a long-running nightmare that has disgraced humankind.  Let us consolidate peace, and make the peace process irreversible.

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