Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (102)

Dinny McGinley

Question:

92 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Liberia and on the welfare and conditions of the Irish troops serving in Liberia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4248/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Deputies will be aware that the national transitional government of Liberia was inaugurated in Monrovia on 14 October, 2003. Mr Gyude Bryant will serve as chairman of the transitional government until parliamentary and presidential elections are held before the end of 2005. The Irish Government was represented at the inauguration by my colleague, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt. On taking office, Mr. Bryant pledged to introduce transparency in government and respect for human rights.

The security situation in UN controlled areas has improved. There has been progress in the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement signed by the Liberian parties on 18 August 2003. The peace process, however, remains fragile. Monrovia is now a weapons free zone but the situation is less stable in other areas. Troops from the United Nations mission in Liberia, UNMIL, were deployed in rebel territory outside Monrovia for the first time on 27 December. Sporadic outbreaks of fighting in rebel strongholds highlight the need for a comprehensive process of disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration, DDRR.

Initial disarmament and demobilisation efforts in December, while securing large numbers of weapons, did not proceed as smoothly as foreseen. On 15 January 2004, a new plan to restart the DDRR programme was agreed by all the military factions, incorporating a timeline to allow the faction leaders to educate their fighters on all aspects of the plan before physical disarmament takes place. Encouragingly, on Monday 9 February 2004, the leader of the largest rebel movement, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, LURD, handed over a substantial cache of weapons to UNMIL to demonstrate support for the impending round of disarmament.

In addition to participating in UNMIL, Ireland, both nationally and as EU Presidency, has been actively engaged in promoting donor support for reconstruction in Liberia. In his address to the Liberia reconstruction conference in New York on 6 February, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, pledged the EU's continued support for the Liberia peace process and for efforts to rebuild the country. He outlined European Community assistance for Liberia, stating that the European Community alone will provide an overall amount of $200 million through the European Development Fund and humanitarian funds to contribute to the transition process and emergency relief over the coming two years. This assistance is in addition to bilateral assistance pledged by EU member states at the conference. Ireland pledged assistance of €5 million.

Ireland will continue to encourage all parties to carry out their commitments and obligations under the comprehensive peace agreement. We will lend active support to the work of the United Nations Special Representative in Liberia, Jacques Klein, and to the EU Special Representative for the region, Hans Dahlgren.

Deputies will also be aware of the substantial deployment of permanent Defence Forces personnel to UNMIL. The Irish contingent comprises some 430 personnel including a small number of personnel at force headquarters in Monrovia. In addition, personnel from the Army ranger wing have been deployed, at the request of the UN, on a short-term basis to UNMIL.

As regards the welfare and conditions of the Irish troops deployed to UNMIL, I would refer to the comprehensive information recently given by my colleague, the Minister for Defence, to the House. The Minister provided the House with extensive briefing on the meticulous preparation and training of Defence Forces personnel for service in UNMIL, and on the measures taken to ensure that an appropriate standard of medical care is available to Irish military personnel. On his visit to the Irish contingent in Liberia on 21-23 January, he conveyed to the Irish troops the deep appreciation of the Government and people of Ireland for their continued outstanding service to the cause of international peace and security.