UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
LIBERIA: IRIN special report on disabled ex-combatants
MONROVIA, 1 September 1999 (IRIN) - Liberia's disabled former fighters want the international community to help them resettle in their regions, Eric Myers, chairman of the Ex-combatant Alliance of Liberia, told IRIN.
Disabled ex-combatants want to return to their home areas and to be given a resettlement package to help them become reintegrated into society, Myers said. He said his Alliance included people from throughout Liberia who fought in all the country's former warring factions.
"We want medical care, housing facilities and education," he added.
Myers said some of the disabled former fighters received no assistance from their families since they had been disowned by their parents, others had their houses burnt during the 1989-1997 war, and many were destitute.
He said there were some 10,000 registered disabled ex-combatants in the country. The government distributes 600 bales of rice per month to them but this is not enough since many have to beg for food so as to survive, he added.
"We cannot do physical work to help ourselves," Myers, who lost a leg in the war, told IRIN. "We feel abandoned in Liberia now and we want the international community to come to our aid."
Felix Downes-Thomas, Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the UN Peace-building Support Office in Liberia, told IRIN in Monrovia that for disabled ex-combatants, reintegration includes "the provision of skills, opportunities for self-employment, income-generating activities".
Aid-agency experts argue that assistance programmes should cater for both ex-combatants and other war-affected Liberians so as not to stigmatise the former or marginalise the latter.
For example, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) last year supported a training programme for 6,000 war-affected Liberians in 23 different areas. Less than 10 percent of those on the programme were ex-combatants, according to a UNDP source in Monrovia.
An orthopaedic centre with a prosthetic workshop is scheduled to open on 23 October in Ganta, Bong County, northwest of Monrovia, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), which is sponsoring the centre with financial support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
A recent survey by a consortium of local agencies revealed that 16 percent of the Liberian population was disabled.
"Any disabled person can be treated at this centre regardless of whether they are war amputees, victims of road traffic accidents or anyone else suffering from disability," a UNICEF source in Monrovia told IRIN.
Some Liberians argue that while international assistance is welcome, the Liberian government should take the lead in addressing the plight of the disabled war veterans.
"They are former combatants of a war Liberians inflicted on themselves," the Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE), a pro-democracy NGO founded by former President Amos Sawyer, wrote in a letter dated 26 August to the 'New Democrat' newspaper here.
"Consequently, Liberians, under the leadership of their government, using primarily their own resources, should take primary responsibility for the ex-combatants and then seek international assistance," CEDE added.
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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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