U.N. closes up Liberia peacekeeping mission after 15 years

Slideshow ( 16 images )

DAKAR (Reuters) - The United Nations closed its peacekeeping mission to Liberia on Thursday, 15 years after it was deployed in the aftermath of two civil wars that ended with the fall of then-president Charles Taylor.

The mission had already withdrawn most of its 15,000 troops in mid-2016, signaling that the poor West African nation can meet its own security needs. Some 2,000 U.N. forces had remained in case of an emergency, but over time they have pulled out.

“This mission contributed to the restoration of peace and stability in Liberia,” President George Weah said in a joint address with visiting U.N. Deputy Secretary Amina Mohammed.

“We salute the men and women in blue helmets who came from far and near, some of whom paid the ultimate price for peace”.

Weah was sworn in to cheering crowds in January, a testimony to how far Liberia has come since its civil wars left almost 250,000 people dead and turned children into killers. He replaced outgoing Africa’s first woman president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf after a hotly contested but nonetheless peaceful election a month earlier.

After being bogged down in quagmires such as Mali, Central African Republic and Congo, it was a welcome bit of good news for a U.N. peacekeeping mission to be able to leave a country in which peace is restored.

“The results were over time but there were 100,000 combatants disarmed and reintegrated,” Mohammed told Reuters in a telephone interview. “The youth are taking ownership as ... the custodians of peace.”

But she added that “there’s a lot of consolidation that needs to be done.”

Founded by freed American slaves, Liberia is Africa’s oldest modern republic. Though now peaceful, youths complain that little so far has been done to tackle widespread graft or lift Liberians out of dire poverty.

Reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg