Written Answers - Overseas Missions.

Thursday, 5 February 2004

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 579 No. 3

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  42.  Mr. Sargent  Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   if he will report on his visit to Irish troops in Liberia; his assessment of the military and political situation in Liberia; the problems posed by child soldiers to the Irish troops; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3388/04]

  44.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Minister for Defence  Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith   if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the Irish contingent serving in Liberia. [3286/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 44 together.

I have already given the House a very comprehensive report on my visit to Liberia in reply to earlier questions. In relation to the political situation, there has been a relatively smooth transfer of political power from the interim Government of Mr. Moses Blah to the national transitional Government of Liberia led by Chairman Bryant. This successful transition should lead to credible national elections in 2005.

Although political in-fighting between and within the various factions could produce short-term difficulties, it has been assessed that all the factions involved are totally committed to the peace process.

A key priority is the disarmament, demobilisation, reconciliation and reintegration project, DDRR. The initial effort on 7 December while securing over 8,500 weapons, resulted in major conflict as significantly more persons turned up to hand over their weapons than had been projected. On 15 January 2004, a new plan to restart the DDRR was agreed by all the military factions incorporating a timeline to allow the faction leaders educate their fighters on all aspects of this new plan before physical disarmament would take place. The fact that so many turned up on the first day for the DDRR process would reinforce the view that there is a strong desire among the population at large for a return to normal civil society and the rule of law.

I am advised by the military authorities that, to date, no direct or indirect threat or aggressive behaviour has been directed at Irish personnel by child soldiers. It is assessed that child soldiers will remain a potential danger, as reports continue to indicate widespread drug use and alcohol abuse amongst them. UNMIL hopes to send these child soldiers to school and reintegrate them into a normal society.


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