I move the following motion
"That Dáil Éireann approves the despatch, pursuant to section 2 of the Defence (Amendment)(No. 2) Act, 1960, as amended by the Defence (Amendment) Act, 1993, of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), established on 19 September, 2003, under UN Security Council Resolution 1509 (2003)."
In commending this motion to the House, I would like to outline the background to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the reason the Government decided to respond positively to the invitation from the United Nations to provide a contingent.
Liberia has been in a state of near-constant conflict since the late 1980s. Along with its neighbouring countries of the Mano River Union -Sierra Leone and Guinea -it has been at the centre of inter-related conflicts driven principally by the sponsorship of rebel movements by national leaders seeking to undermine their neighbouring regimes.
Liberia’s former President, Charles Taylor, was the principal architect in fomenting instability in the region, particularly through his support for the rebel movement in Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). In turn, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire, have been accused of supporting and sponsoring anti-Taylor rebels in Liberia.
The conflict in the region has been marked by large-scale human rights abuses, including, intimidation, rape, decapitation and murder. Within Liberia itself, the Taylor regime was marked by human rights abuse, corruption and rampant exploitation of natural resources for private gain. Two major rebel groups emerged within Liberia, in opposition to Taylor, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), with an estimated strength of 5,000 and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), comprising some 1,500 to 3,000 personnel. Both groups have histories of atrocities towards civilian populations and have relied on child soldiers, including girls. It is estimated that Liberia has some 27,000 to 38,000 combatants, including the “Taylorites”, up to 70% of whom, are minors.
The initial impetus for change was the provision of adequate resources and a robust mandate to the peackeeping mission in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL. However, while the situation in Sierra Leone improved, Liberia was still in state of civil war, notwithstanding the imposition of carefully targeted sanctions by the UN on the Taylor regime. On 29 July, 2003, UN Secretary-General Annan wrote to the President of the Security Council to propose a three-phase deployment of international troops to Liberia, to be authorized under Security Council resolutions. The Secretary General also demonstrated his resolve to secure peace in Liberia by appointing as his Special Representative to Liberia, an experienced UN official, Jacques-Paul Klein (a US national).
On 4 August, 2003, a Nigerian-led Mission deployed, bolstered by troops from a number of West African nations, with support from UNAMSIL and the US. Since then, President Taylor accepted the offer of exile in Nigeria and a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed by the Government and the Rebel groups on 18 August, 2003. The peace agreement, which sets out a “road map” towards elections in 2005, has been endorsed by the Security Council in Resolution 1509, which also established UNMIL. In accordance with the terms of the peace agreement, the National Transitional Government of Liberia was inaugurated in Monrovia on 14 October, 2003, headed by Mr Gyude Bryant, who serves as Chairman of the Transitional Government.
The stated objective of LURD and MODEL rebel groups has been the removal of Taylor as President. That objective now having been achieved, both groups are involved in the Transitional Government and are parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Publicly, both groups are committed to the democratic process and to disarmament, dissolution and destruction of weapons. However, despite recent improvements in the security situation in UN-controlled areas and progress in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Liberia remains highly unstable and the peace process remains fragile. The rebel movements continue to control large areas outside of the capital, Monrovia. Minor incidents can quickly escalate and there is poor control and communication between the disparate elements of the rebel groups. As Deputies will be aware, there have been some incidents involving the rebel groups and Government forces in Monrovia itself and more recently in the North of the country since the National Transitional Government was established.
Reasons that Government decided to participate in UNMIL
Establishing peace in Liberia, in tandem with the current UN operations in support of peace in Sierra Leone and the wider Mano River Union region, offers a real and tangible opportunity for the international community to assist in bringing stability to the region as a whole. The Defence Forces’ have a strong tradition of participation in missions of this nature and Ireland has a particular commitment to Africa, evidenced by, among other things, our bilateral aid programme. Ireland is firmly committed to the role of the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace and security. The Government consider that Ireland, as a longstanding contributor to UN peacekeeping, should participate where possible in suitable peace support operations. The UNMIL operation in Liberia offers a suitable opportunity for such participation.
Establishment and Mandate of UNMIL
UNMIL has a strong and robust UN mandate. Security Council Resolution 1509 established a peacekeeping operation consisting of up to 15,000 military personnel, together with up to 250 military observers, 1,115 civilian police officers and a civilian component, for a period of twelve months. UNMIL will operate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which means that the Force will have authorisation to take all necessary measures to fulfil its mandate.
UNMIL's mandate is comprehensive and includes monitoring the implementation of the ceasefire and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government and rebel forces. It also includes inter alia assisting the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, and repatriation of all armed parties, providing security and protection, the provision of humanitarian assistance and the promotion of human rights.
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UNMIL will have an initial strength of 3,500 personnel drawn from more than 20 Countries. While Ireland is so far the only western country offering formed military units, some of our EU partners are providing staff officers and military observers. Also, the Netherlands is supplying key medical facilities for the mission, and I would like to express my appreciation for this.
Irish participation in UNMIL
The proposed Irish contingent will comprise a motorized infantry battalion, of some 430 personnel and a small number of additional personnel who will be deployed at Force Headquarters and as Military Observers. At the request of the UN, a contingent of the Army Ranger Wing will be deployed for a 3 month period.
The Irish contingent will operate as the Force Commander’s Rapid Reaction Reserve. The role of the Irish personnel will be the provision of an immediate response capability, deployable in sufficient strength and with the required level of force to provide a swift and decisive military reaction to any crisis situation. In the initial stages, the Irish Battalion will act in a pathfinding role for the UN Brigades deploying beyond Monrovia.
Subject to Dail approval, deployment to UNMIL will take place in November/December 2003. Initial deployment would be for 1 year, with a possible extension thereafter, subject to renewal of the UN mandate and a satisfactory review of the mission. In the case of UNMIL, my intention is that Defence Forces involvement will not exceed two to three years in duration. Elections, which are due in 2005, under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, should be completed at that stage.
A detailed reconnaissance and threat assessment has been undertaken in the mission area by a Defence Forces team. The military authorities have reported that Liberia is an inherently dangerous theatre of operations. The potential for renewed hostilities, an unquantified mine/improvised explosive device threat, hazardous driving conditions, the demanding climatic conditions and the threat to health make force protection a primary concern for the Defence Forces.
In the current phase of the UN operation, UNMIL troops have only been deployed in and around Monrovia. The security threat to UNMIL troops in Monrovia is assessed as MEDIUM due to the potential for minor incidents to quickly escalate into major confrontations. The poor communications between the leaders of the various factions and their troops also has the potential to lead to sporadic fighting. All sides are generally abiding by the UN imposed weapons ban in the city and are awaiting the full deployment of UNMIL.
The security threat to UNMIL troops in the rest of Liberia is assessed as HIGH. However, it is anticipated that this threat should decline as the UN peacekeeping troops are deployed beyond Monrovia in the next phase of deployment.
The Health Risk is assessed as HIGH. Disease rates in Liberia are among the highest in the world, exacerbated by huge numbers of displaced persons crowded into Monrovia. Malaria is the major insect borne disease and transmission is sustained year round. Other diseases include Hepatitis A, E and B, sleeping sickness, and a variety of viral and food and water-borne diseases. HIV/AIDS is also prevalent.
The safety of Irish personnel serving overseas is always of paramount concern. While no absolute guarantees can be given with regard to the safety of troops serving in missions it is the policy and practice to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are adequately trained and equipped to carry out their mission. Troops selected for overseas service undergo a rigorous programme of training and this will also apply in the case of the contingent to be deployed for service with UNMIL.
The contingent is being supplemented with a number of additional engineers to counter the threat from unexploded ordnance, mines and improvised explosive devices. Additional medical personnel are also being deployed because of the particularly hazardous nature of the health environment. Some additional heavy weaponry is also being deployed in a force protection role.
The Defence Forces adopt a very comprehensive approach to managing and protecting the health of deployed personnel. As a matter of course, all personnel volunteering must have passed their annual medical in the first instance. They are then subjected to a further detailed overseas medical, where they are assessed for suitability with particular reference to the physical requirements of the particular mission. The troops to be deployed to Liberia will all go through this process.
The main risk to health in Liberia is Malaria. In this regard, the Director of the Army Medical Corps has stated that systematic use by DF personnel of anti-Malaria medication should be effective in protecting them from this disease. Troops are being fully immunised against all other known disease risks including Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A and B, Cholera, Meningitis and Tetanus. In relation to possible water borne parasites or diseases, the Defence Forces are bringing their own water purification plant and sewage treatment plant with them. On return from the mission, all troops are tested as a matter of course.
In relation to direct, on the ground medical facilities, the Defence Forces will be deploying, as part of the Battalion, a state of the art containerised medical facility, which was recently acquired. The medical facility will be operated by two (02) medical doctors who will be assisted by a team of thirteen (13) Defence Forces medical personnel and paramedics. Special training is being provided by the Netherlands to our medical personnel on the environmental health issues arising in a tropical setting. A full surgical medical facility is being provided to the mission by the Netherlands initially and by Jordan thereafter. In addition, there is a Red Cross medical facility in Monrovia, and a full surgical medical facility in Freetown, attached to the UNAMSIL, also provided by Jordan. The Jordanians provided a similar facility to our troops in UNMEE, which worked very well there.
It is estimated that the additional ongoing cost to the Defence Vote (transportation, living costs, overseas allowances) from participation in UNMIL would amount to some €12.1m per annum. UN reimbursement of costs to the Exchequer in this regard should amount to some €10.8m per annum leaving a net additional cost to the Exchequer of some €1.3m in 2004.
Ireland has always taken seriously its obligation under the United Nations Charter to make available to the Security Council armed forces, assistance and facilities, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security. In Liberia, Ireland has the opportunity to contribute, in a substantive manner, in bringing stability to a key region in Africa; to support the establishment of peace, respect for human rights and the rule of law and the re-establishment of civil society in the region. Since our first involvement in peacekeeping in 1958, Ireland’s willingness to participate in UN peace support missions has been motivated be a firm belief that peoples throughout the world have the right to live in peace with justice, free from fear. Our participation in UNMIL represents a continuation and vindication of that belief.
I commend the motion to the House.
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