Nigeria's chief of army staff, Major General Martin Luther Agwai has told soldiers preparing to leave for Liberia that they are going as peacekeepers, not to fight any of the rival groups. General Agwai was speaking in Sierra Leone from where the first battalion of peacekeepers, all Nigerian, are setting out. This report from Elizabeth Blunt:
General Agwai was in Freetown to meet the battalion going to Liberia and to give them a pep talk on the eve of their deployment. These men have already completed a full tour of duty with the United Nations force in Sierra Leone and had been due to return home. Now they are being sent as the vanguard of an international force to bring peace to Liberia.
General Agwai reminded them that they were going as peacekeepers and although they had a mandate to defend themselves if attacked, they were not going to Liberia to fight against any of the factions. He will do everything in his power to make sure they could carry out their task with the least possible danger to themselves, he said. He didn't want to have to bring home a single Nigerian coffin.
Senior Nigerian officers remember only too well what happened last time they took a regional peacekeeping mission into Liberia in 1990. Despite assurances from two of the factions, fighters from a third force, that led by Charles Taylor, opened fire on them on the very first day and from that moment on they became parties in the war. They were there for eight long years and lost over a thousand Nigerians dead. No one wants any risk of the same thing happening again.