Half a Country Prepares to Go Home With AM-Liberia-Waning War, Bjt
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ If Liberia succeeds in forming a united government and ending four years of civil war, relief officials expect more than a million refugees to begin going home.
″It is a nation of displaced people,″ said Dale Gilles, chief of the emergency unit of the U.N. Development Program in Liberia.
Up to 800,000 people have fled to neighboring Ivory Coast, Guinea and Sierra Leone and perhaps 1 million more have been displaced within Liberia.
The battles between three main factions have triggered such a convoluted pattern of movement that people returning to their villages will find displaced people from other parts of the country living in their homes.
″It’ll be musical chairs,″ Gilles said.
Under a U.N.-sponsored peace agreement, a government representing the three factions is to assume power on March 7, the same day a West African coalition army is to begin disarming tens of thousands of combatants.
Gilles said many people also will find their homes damaged or destroyed when they return home, likely triggering a flood of people to the capital, Monrovia.
A special problem is the contingents of young boys - known in Liberia as SBUs, or ″Small Boys Units″ - used by the rebels on the front lines.
Myrtle Gibson, head of a group called Liberian Children’s Concern, said the estimated 6,000 adolescent fighters will need more than disarmament to recover from the horrors of war.
″You can take away their guns, but it will take a lot more to demilitarize their minds,″ she said.