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Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
UN urges West African arms ban
Liberian army
Charles Taylor says Liberia cannot equip its army because of the UN arms embargo
A UN official has said that West African countries should make possession of weapons by civilians an offence.

Adolfo Zinser also said that Liberia needed the help of the international community to secure a ceasefire and a political settlement in the conflict between the government and rebel forces.


There should be a permanent ban of arms to the region

UN ambassador Adolfo Zinser
Mr Zinser , of the United Nations Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone, was speaking as he ended a visit to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Liberia's conflict is closely linked to Sierra Leone's decade of conflict, which was declared over in Sierra Leone last January, and to a bloody insurgency in Guinea last year.

'Weapons-free zone'

Ambassador Zinser insisted that civilians should not be allowed to carry guns in West Africa.

"There should be a permanent ban of arms to the region," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

As the next step after the renewal of sanctions against Liberia in May, he recommended a weapons-free zone for the three neighbouring countries, and said this should be respected by the international community and arms-exporting countries.

Mr Zinser also said he would tell the UN Security Council that a recent upsurge in fighting between the rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) and the Liberian army had left civilians frightened and uncertain of their future.

Displaced children
Thousands have been displaced by the fighting

"Liberia needs the help of the international community," he said.

"We should help by all means available to us to procure a ceasefire here," he said.

Mr Zinser would not say, however, whether he supports the idea of deploying foreign troops.

Liberia's President, Charles Taylor, and the Lurd combatants should agree to a ceasefire and sit down to discuss a possible political settlement to the differences, he said.

'Fear'

"I think it is unfair what both are doing to the civilian population in Liberia," Mr Zinser said.

He said ordinary Liberians had told him of their fear.

"Our hearts are bleeding with fear, with sorrow; we don't know what is going to happen to us and to our children tomorrow," a group of women told him.

Liberian President Charles Taylor
Taylor declared a state of emergency in February

"We are frightened by the possibility of being slaughtered at the hands of those who are fighting this senseless war."

Mr Zinser was in the region to assess the impact of the UN arms sanctions on Sierra Leone and the fighting in Liberia, and to come up with recommendations for the UN Security Council.

His visit coincides with the decision by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to send a mission to Liberia on 14 July to assess security in the country.

President Charles Taylor's government recently appealed for urgent intervention to tackle the growing threat from the Lurd rebels.

Charles Taylor, a former warlord who came to power after elections in 1997, is battling Lurd rebels who, for two years, have waged a guerrilla war reminiscent for many of the civil war of the 1990s.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
UN's Adolfo Zinser
"Liberia needs the help of the international community"
News, analysis and background from Liberia's conflict and escalating refugee crisis

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02 Jul 02 | Africa
07 May 02 | Africa
21 Jul 01 | Americas
20 Aug 01 | Americas
09 Jul 01 | Africa
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