March 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 March 2007
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Expected Council Action

The Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which expires on 31 March. Members await recommendations from the Secretary-General on UNMIL’s future size. A decrease in troop levels is possible in view of the current pressure on peacekeeping resources for other proposed deployments in Africa.

(A related issue that may come up in discussions is the report on cross-border issues and inter-mission cooperation in West Africa. This is now more than eight weeks overdue.)
Key Recent Developments
Liberia continues to be stable but fragile. The government has focused on improving governance, state control over natural resources and key infrastructure. The adoption of a national security architecture, however, is still pending. In an expression of support, some countries, including the US, Germany and the UK, announced the cancellation of part of Liberia’s external debt of US$3.7 billion at the Liberia Partners’ Forum on 13 February.

The Council renewed diamond sanctions for six months in December, noting that insufficient progress had been made towards establishing a transparent, effective and internationally verifiable certificate of origin. It also renewed sanctions on arms and the travel bans on designated persons for 12 months. For the first time, the sanctions committee de-listed one individual from the travel ban.

Reconstituting the security forces-the key benchmark for UNMIL’s drawdown-is underway, albeit with significant difficulties. UN-assisted recruitment of 3,500 trained police officers is likely to be finalised by July but deployment will be hampered by logistical and management constraints. The 2,000-strong armed forces, to be recruited and trained by a private US contractor, may not be fully operational before 2008. In addition, 39,000 out of 101,495 ex-combatants have not yet been included in reintegration programmes.

Relatively minor adjustments were made in late 2006 to UNMIL’s strength, which now comprises 14,875 troops and 1,240 police. The December UNMIL report stressed that “further adjustments, including the withdrawal of another infantry battalion in 2007, will be considered if the security situation in the country permits.” In a message to the Liberia Partners’ Forum, the new Secretary-General says he “will work with the Government to develop a carefully calibrated drawdown plan” which “requires the approval of the Security Council” and “needs to be linked to the Government’s capacity to shoulder its security and law and order responsibilities.”

Available options include:

  • extending the mandate for six months but continuing the cautious approach to downsizing UNMIL by maintaining  current levels;
  • deciding on firm reductions in UNMIL’s size during the six-month mandate;
  • adopting a compromise approach involving an extension of the mandate for twelve months with firm reductions in UNMIL’s strength from September, for example;
  • adopting a phased approach involving a reduction, for example, by one battalion by mid-year and requesting recommendations on a flexible future drawdown timetable; and
  • bringing in the regional dimension, perhaps by requesting a Secretariat briefing under the existing agenda item, “The situation along the borders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” and insisting on the report on cross-border issues being made available.

Other options include:

  • considering the Secretary-General’s March 2005 recommendations on UN inter-mission cooperation, including through extended areas of responsibility and a sub-regional reserve force;
  • expressing support for UNMIL, UNOCI and the relevant special representatives of the Secretary-General giving higher priority to regional aspects; and
  • reverting to the small arms debate, in view of the endemic small arms problem in the region, perhaps by reintroducing elements from the March 2006 draft resolution presented by Argentina in a new regionally focused presidential statement.

Key Issues
Deciding the term of UNMIL’s mandate and its troop levels will be the key issue in March. The question involves how best to balance Liberia’s needs given the absence of standing security forces and the challenging regional environment, with the emerging pressure for new peacekeeping in Africa. Members will be hard-pressed to conclude that UNMIL should continue at current levels given the projected need to generate up to nearly 40,000 new peacekeepers.
But a balancing issue is how best to approach the regional dimension, taking into account uncertainty in Guinea and the possible need to safeguard the fragile peacebuilding process in Sierra Leone.

Council Dynamics
Positions on the future of UNMIL’s size are still being formed. Members await the Secretary-General’s recommendations and developments with the proposed missions in Somalia and Chad/CAR in particular.

The US (given its support for peacekeeping commitments in Liberia, Darfur and Somalia) may face strong conflicting pressures.  This dilemma will be similar for African members.

A flexible approach to UNMIL’s size is likely to generate support, in particular from France given its strong support for the Chad/CAR mission.

Some European and African members are interested in discussing the situation in Guinea. There is frustration with lack of leadership from the UN Office for West Africa, and with delays with the Secretary-General’s report on cross-border issues. Some members, including China, Russia and Congo, are likely to be uncomfortable with Council involvement without Guinea’s approval.

Underlying Problems
Youth unemployment, disenfranchised ex-combatants and former security apparatus members pose significant threats to Liberia’s stability. In early February, hundreds of former soldiers protested in Monrovia about arrears in demobilisation packages, prompting action by UNMIL and Liberian police.

In neighbouring Guinea, martial law was imposed on 12 February following a general strike and violent clashes between the armed forces and protestors. Rampant corruption, economic decline, and the steady erosion of President Lansana Conté’s twenty-year regime seem to be at the root of the crisis. The recent violence attracted criticism from thirty African heads of state gathered at the Africa-France summit in Cannes.

Concerns were heightened when Conté rejected mediation by ECOWAS in early February.

The risk of regional involvement is increasing. This includes potential supporters of Conté, including the former rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), Côte d’Ivoire’s President Laurent Gbagbo and Guinea-Bissau’s President João Bernardo Vieira.

Responding to regional instability, UNMIL strengthened its border presence and in late 2006 conducted concurrent activities with UNOCI and the armed forces of Sierra Leone and Guinea.

UN Documents

 Selected Security Council Resolutions
  • S/RES/1731 (20 December 2006) renewed sanctions.
  • S/RES/1712 (29 September 2006) renewed UNMIL’s mandate until 31 March 2007.
  • S/RES/1626 (19 September 2005) authorised a temporary redeployment in Sierra Leone of UNMIL troops.
  • S/RES/1609 (24 June 2005) authorised inter-mission troop sharing.
  • S/RES/1532 (12 March 2004) imposed an assets freeze against Charles Taylor and associates.
  • S/RES/1521 (22 December 2003) imposed sanctions.
  • S/RES/1509 (19 September 2003) established UNMIL.
 Selected Presidential Statement
  • S/PRST/2006/38 (9 August 2006) requested the report on cross-border issues.
 Selected Secretary-General’s Reports
  • S/2006/958 (11 December 2006) was the latest UNMIL report.
  • S/2005/135 (2 March 2005) was the report on inter-mission cooperation.
  • S/2006/1044 (28 December 2006) was the latest sanctions committee report.
  • S/2006/976 (13 December 2006) was the latest Panel of Experts’ report.

Historical Background

 January-February 2007  Violent clashes between police and civilian protesters led to a declaration of martial law in Guinea.
 October 2006  The Council decided not to reinstate timber sanctions.
 June 2006  The Council lifted the timber embargo.
 February 2006  The Council authorised troop sharing between UNMIL and UNOCI.
 January 2006  Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as Liberia’s new president.
 September 2005  The Council mandated UNMIL to provide security for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
 March 2004  The Council imposed sanctions on former Liberian President Charles Taylor and his associates.
 December 2003  The Council imposed a sanctions regime. 
 September 2003  UNMIL was established.
 August 2003  ECOWAS and US troops arrived, Taylor fled to Nigeria and a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed.

Other Relevant Facts

 Special Representative of the Secretary-General
 Alan Doss (United Kingdom)
 UNMIL: Size, Composition and Cost
  • Total authorised strength: up to 14,875 military and 1,240 police
  • Strength as of 31 December 2006: 13,801 military and 1,097 police
  • Key troop-contributing countries: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia
  • Cost: 1 July 2006 – 30 June 2007: $745.57 million
 UNMIL: Duration
 September 2003 to present; mandate expires 31 March 2007

Useful Additional Sources

Full forecast


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