The IRC Provides Aid to Demobilizing Women as Liberian Disarmament Program Begins
The International Rescue Committee is set to provide a range of aid to women formerly associated with Liberia's fighting forces, as part of a nationwide Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Rehabilitation program that was launched today.
“We are fully committed to participating in this vital step in Liberia's peace process,” says IRC program coordinator Sophie Read-Hamilton. “Until disarmament has taken place, refugees and the displaced cannot return to their homes and abuse and atrocities will continue.”
The program started today in the former LURD rebel stronghold of Gbarnga, 150 km northeast of Monrovia and will gradually extend to three other cantonment centers. The IRC is responsible for providing services such as reproductive health care, protection and psychsocial support to demobilizing women in all cantonment areas.
“A majority of these women have been victims of horrific violence,” Read-Hamilton explains. “Large numbers were abducted by soldiers and some were forced to become wives of combatants. Many will require emergency assistance.”
The IRC is also interviewing women in the cantonment sites to collect data that will be crucial in designing assistance programs, such as vocational training schemes, that will help reintegrate the women into their respective communities.
An estimated 40,000 former combatants from the government forces and the two rebel groups LURD and MODEL, many of them child and adolescent soldiers, are expected to take part in the program.
The process has a number of stages. Initially, combatants will report to designated pick-up points with weapons and ammunition. After laying down their arms they will be transported to the cantonment areas for demobilization. There, ex-fighters will be registered, will receive medical screening, treatment and food and will begin participation in orientation programs. After a minimum seven-day stay at the cantonment site, each combatant will receive a cash payment of $150. The fighters will then be sent back to their home communities, where they will receive an additional $150 to be applied toward skills training and skills training to help re-start their lives.
A second cantonment site will open on April 20 in the port city of Buchanan, formerly held by the MODEL rebel group. The third is scheduled to be operational by April 25 in the former LURD base of Tubmanburg. A fourth cantonment site, by the VOA refugee camp west of Monrovia, is set to begin programs on April 30.
The DDRR process first started at the beginning of December at a cantonment site near the capital Monrovia, but was suspended when the fighters went on a rampage in the city after their demands that they be given cash in exchange for their guns were not met. The combatants also expressed anger over the state of the cantonment site, citing inadequate water, food and sanitation. At least nine people died and several more were wounded during three days of disorder and looting.
The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) eventually agreed to give combatants US $75 on receiving their weapons, as an advance of the US$300 resettlement payment. A resumption date of January 20 was also scrapped due to a lack of preparedness.
“The overall preparations seem to be satisfactory this time, and no security incidents have been reported,” Read-Hamilton said as the first day of disarmament ended. She however added that the security situation remains volatile in the country and expressed concern over last week's deterioration of security in Gbarnga. LURD fighters wreaked havoc on the town, claiming that the leadership of the rebel movement had abandoned them. Combatants fired their guns at random, harassed civilians and looted several properties.
Fighting between former government troops and rebels also took place further northeast in Ganta, where a 20 member IRC health team supports three remote clinics that provide vital services to almost 30,000 people.
“All IRC staff members in the field outside the capital district, except for our DDRR team at the Gbarnga cantonment site, have been recalled to Monrovia until security can be fully restored,” Read-Hamilton says.