Riots in Liberia's capital Monrovia over the weekend have left sixteen people dead and 200 wounded. The violence - the worst since the civil war ended last year – began as a land dispute on the evening of Oct. 28 but quickly escalated into widespread rioting.
"The situation here is still very volatile," said Jo Hutton, Country Program Manager in Liberia for the development and relief agency Oxfam.
"You have gangs of restless youths loitering around Monrovia with nothing to do and no prospects for the future. It's like a tinderbox waiting for a spark."
While some have assumed the present violence is related or akin to religious intolerance, the Monrovia-based Analyst reports that “the nation has much to contend with and it is beginning with ensuring that religion is no bases for community violence and insurrection in Liberia.”
Charles Gyude Bryant, Chairman of the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA), who recounted the violent clashes over the weekend, blamed the incident on individuals whom he called "hooligans, vandals, and looters."
"Through act of looting, vandalism, and arson, churches, mosques, schools, gas stations and private homes, including homes of three cabinet ministers were set ablaze," Chairman said.
During yesterday’s NTLA briefing on the state of affairs, Bryant noted, "There is no religious war in our country. What we have are persons who, for various reasons, are not prepared to see us return to democratic governance."
He maintained that Christians and Muslims have coexisted over the years peacefully and therefore said he considered the recent disturbance "a dangerous precedence, which every Liberian should condemn."
Bryant called on all citizens to reject "this new trend by evil minded persons" who, he said, will stop at nothing to keep Liberia in a state of perpetual conflict and war.
According to The Chairman, the masterminds behind the war are prepared to use devilish means to keep Liberians divided.
He however noted that the people would prevail over evil.
Given the fluidity of the situation, Bryant said, the government was compelled to declare a curfew and authorize the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to "use lethal force" in order to quell the riots and protect innocent lives and properties.
Since the end of the civil war in August 2003, Liberia has gained the world's largest United Nations peacekeeping force, UNMIL, which has been disarming the former fighters since April. But the funds are quickly running out.
According to Oxfam, Liberia's transitional President Gyude Bryant has called for an extra $44 million to pay for education and skills training for the former fighters and to reintegrate them into their war-devastated communities. Also, critical is the funding needed to help hundreds of thousands of Liberian refugees and internally displaced people return home. The agency reports that resettlement of internally displaced people from their camps was due to start on Nov. 1 but has been postponed because of the current instability.