Liberia: February 25, 2005

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After disarming most of the known rebel and army troops, UN peacekeepers have declared 13 of the countries 15 counties safe enough to receive returning refugees. There are some 850,000 refugees, 350,000 of them outside the country. They have been living off food aid, in refugee camps. Now they can return to their farms and other property. The fighting between rebels and soldiers, plus the looting by these forces, and bandits, have left most of these farms looted and burned. Homes and businesses were also destroyed. Burned out ruins are a common sight throughout the country. Foreign aid has to provide tools, seed and building materials so that the refugees can become self-sustaining. Schools and clinics are being rebuilt as well. Some refugees began returning on their own last year, risking fatal encounters with rebels and soldiers who had not disarmed, or bandit gangs that will never disarm. The bandits are hunted down by peacekeepers, and are arrested, forced to scatter, or killed.

But some of the disarmed rebels, soldiers and bandits have been better organized, and have taken over farms or businesses, and claim to be the owners. The peacekeepers are less well prepared with cases like this, which are usually handled by lawyers and courts.  Sorting out who owns what, with most government records destroyed during years of fighting, will itself take a long time. Some ownership disputes will never be adequately resolved, and some will lead to renewed violence. There are few layers or courts in Liberia, and this is not expected to change for several years. 

 

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