CAFOD calls for peace forces to be sent to Liberia

 CAFOD is calling for the international community to respond to the crisis in Liberia. In a stament the agency says it believes that Prime Minister Tony Blair should encourage President George Bush to back an international peace enforcement force for the West African state of Liberia. Over recent weeks CAFOD has grown increasingly concerned by reports from local organisations about the country's deteriorating situation. Responding to pleas from its partners, CAFOD is calling for a UN led military invention to enforce the current ceasefire between government and rebel forces. The Catholic development agency - together with its Liberian partners - believes that the immediate deployment of an international force with a clear United Nations mandate for peace enforcement is the only path to lasting peace in Liberia, and the wider region. To help ensure lasting stability in both Liberia and the West Africa region, CAFOD is asking for four measures to be taken: * the immediate deployment of a substantial international peace enforcement mission, as occurred in neighbouring Sierra Leone, with United States backing, with the urgent task of achieving a cessation of all hostilities; *a commitment from the international community to fund and staff the mission for at least 18 months to ensure a firm foundation for future lasting peace and democracy; * immediate cessation of all hostilities; immediate disarmament of all groups overseen and enforced by the international mission; *a commitment to ensure that humanitarian organisations are allowed to work freely to meet the urgent needs of the Liberian people. Recent history of conflict in the region suggests that the current ceasefire between government and rebel forces is unlikely to hold for long. If violence escalates in Liberia there is a strong possibility that it will destabilise neighbouring countries, in particular Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. CAFOD believes that US backing for a substantial intervention force is crucial for its fast and effective deployment. The US has strong historical links to Liberia and by providing forces to join an international UN led force, President George Bush could send a clear message of support to the people of West Africa. CAFOD West Africa programme leader Antonio Cabral said: "Fighting on both sides, child soldiers as young as nine are a tragic feature of the Liberian conflict. For the sake of an entire generation of Liberian children it is essential that the international community acts quickly and forcefully to enforce the current fragile peace. CAFOD urges world leaders to grasp this brief window of opportunity to bring a lasting peace in the West Africa region. "But any intervention must come with a long term commitment to peace-building including the establishment of the various layers of democratic government that are non-existent at the moment. This process is well underway in Sierra Leone, and needs to be extended into Liberia. The quick fix measure of merely pushing a new ex-rebel president into power, as happened in 1997, has proved disastrous in the long term and must not be repeated." CAFOD has joined together with its Irish sister agency Trocaire to respond to urgent requests from Liberian partners to help thousands of children made homeless by the recent conflict. Over the last few violent weeks, children as young as five have been pouring into emergency shelters in Monrovia provided by CAFOD partners. Six new night shelters have been opened to meet the need and the CAFOD/Trocaire joint response will help provide temporary housing for up to 6000 children. Homeless children who have become separated from their families are especially vulnerable to pressgangs recruiting child-soldiers.

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