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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
Liberia fights 'ghost soldiers'
Liberia soldiers on parade
How many more ghosts are there in Liberia's army?
Liberia has discovered that some 2,000 soldiers out of its 14,000 strong army do not exist.

All of these so-called "ghost soldiers" have now been removed from the payroll in an attempt to cut fraud.

Defence Ministry spokesman Philibert Brown told Reuters news agency that some senior officers had been regularly receiving salaries on behalf of people who do not exist.

There will be no trouble because a ghost does not exist

Philibert Brown, Defence Ministry
Correspondents say that there may still be thousands more "ghost soldiers" in Liberia.

It is thought that only around half of Liberia's official military strength of 12,000 is still in service - the rest were killed or deserted during the country's long 1990s civil war.

For the past year, Liberia has been rocked by serious fighting in the areas which border Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Rebel accusations

"Our exercise is intended to identify only ghost names and I must tell you that there will be no trouble because a ghost does not exist," said Mr Brown.

President Charles Taylor accuses the Guinean government of backing dissidents trying to overthrow him.

Guinea and Sierra Leone retort that he is helping rebel movements in their countries.

Charles Taylor
Taylor is accused of profiting from his neighbours' wars

In May, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Mr Taylor and members of his government, accusing him of profiting from diamonds mined by Sierra Leone's rebel Revolutionary United Front.

It is alleged that Liberia sells the so-called "blood diamonds" and helps supply the RUF with weapons in exchange.

On Wednesday, Mr Taylor shuffled the top command of his army and sacked five other soldiers for unspecified criminal activities.

The BBC's Sam Howard in Monrovia says it is not known why this operation has been ordered at this time.

But sources say it is intended to restore discipline and refocus the army for its fight against dissidents in the northern Lofa country.

See also:

16 Feb 01 | Africa
UN delays Liberia sanctions
15 May 00 | Africa
Diamonds: A rebel's best friend
12 Feb 01 | Africa
Timeline: Liberia
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Liberia
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