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Theology Thursdays: Liberia-Faith Leaders Meet In Response To Violence

Violence erupted in the capital of Liberia over the Oct. 31 weekend. It was previously believed that the cause was religious, but this was found to be false. Nonetheless, Christian/Muslim leaders cooperated to end the youth gang-style fighting and unrest in the streets and provided repatriation assistance of ex-combatants.

UMNS reports that after the violence, Christian and Muslim religious leaders met in a decisive effort to calm the violence quickly. They visited five radio stations and broadcasted peace urging all to cease further violence. The leaders also met with United Nations, according to Benjamin Dorme Lartey, head of the Liberian Council of Churches.

Though the cause is unrelated to Christian/Muslim conflicts, we nonetheless commend the Liberian Council of Churches and the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia for taking the lead in helping end this unrest and averting the development of future conflict between Muslims and Christians," said Moses Ole Sakuda, associate director of the Church World Service Mission Relationships and Witness Program.

Riots last week left at least 18 people dead and hundreds of properties burned to the ground, including mosques, churches and religious schools (NY Times).

The conflict is mainly due to ethnic tensions between the mostly Muslim Mandingos and Liberia's other, mainly Christian ethnic groups, along with mounting frustration at the dire living conditions. The rioting youths emerged in defiance of a curfew imposed.

The riots occurred at the same time as the ceremony for the ending of a U.N. supervised disarmament program for tens of thousands of former fighters from two rebel groups and loyalist militias, which began in April 2004.

Despite the new violence, the United Methodist Committee on Relief continues to help former soldiers demobilize. In fact, United Methodist humanitarian aid agency has successfully helped to reintegrate some 23,000 ex-combatants through camps, which were set up in April, with a grant from the United Nations Development Program. And though one camp has closed, UMCOR officials said a second camp would remain open until March 2005.

Camp activities are to prepare residents for next steps in their return home and are very necessary for those who have not lived as civilians for a long time. Following their stay at the camp, participants move on to job and skills training and other aspects to mitigate reentry into civilian life.

UMCOR also received a U.N. grant to offer vocational training to roughly 1,300 former soldiers.
More than 100 heavily armed U.S. Marines briefly went ashore in August 2003 to intervene in Liberia's civil war, and to help support the peace force.

The troops form part of a 15,000-strong peacekeeping contingent, the world's largest, sent to oversee a peace deal signed last year to end the civil war. The new government is to hold elections in October 2005.

The U.N. mission said on Sept. 15 it had disarmed 76,560 Liberian ex-combatants, a number which has increased since then. However, many suggested last month there was little chance all weapons could be handed in by the deadline.

Liberia is struggling to emerge from a civil war, which has crippled the economy, creating an explosive mix of hundreds of thousands of jobless youths and relatively easy access to guns.

About 20 percent of Liberia's population is Muslim, 40 percent Christian and 40 percent follow animist beliefs.

Liberian United Methodist Bishop John G. Innis said, "Conflict or war is like a disease . . . it comes, but it takes time for healing to take place, so we are of the opinion in Christ that the situation will one day come under control. There will be total peace in our country, but before peace comes, we have to go through some tough times."

This article appears in The Christian Post

Lilia Tse

Thursday, November 11, 2004

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