Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire: Peace talks in war-torn border town

women in liberia celebrate peace agreement
Liberians march together to celebrate the 10 years of peace since the end of the war in Liberia. (Photo:Emmanuel Tobey/UNMIL photo)

“It is painful to remember how my husband was brutally murdered in front of me and our children," says Elizabeth Sobu, a resident of the South Eastern town of Zwedru, on the border between Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire." We survived only by the grace of God.”

Highlights

  • Starting in 2010, a cross-border localized conflict killed an estimated 10,000 people and displaced more than 100,000
  • Efforts to stem localized tribal violence is part of a broader reconciliation agenda in Liberia that is supported by UNDP
  • Peace seems to be holding and many of the 100,000 displaced by fighting have begun to return home
  • UNDP has committed US $2 million over two years in Liberia to help bring lasting peace to the country

Sobu is a refugee from a localized conflict that raged along the Liberian-Ivorian border between 2010 and 2013. More than two years ago, fighting left her destitute with five children to care for.

But a steamy afternoon last October has turned out to be a historic moment – finally bringing peace to Sobu and her community.

With UNDP help, three years of localized tribal conflict came to an end, after Allasane Quattara, President of Côte d'Ivoire and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, as well as elders from the two warring cross-border factions met in Zwedru to discuss reconciliation.

The conflict began after a civil war in Cote d’Ivoire displaced hundreds of thousands of people, causing a flow of refugees into Liberia and sparking instability and competition for land and resources. Multiple cross border raids and an on-going feud between the borders has so far killed an estimated 10,000 people and displaced more than 100,000.

After the talks in Zwedru, both presidents signed a joint treaty in which they agreed to improve border security, empower young people and allow refugees to return home. They also committed to creating a joint working group to implement the peace agreement which is part of a UNDP-supported broader reconciliation agenda in Liberia.

"We must find new ways to enhance our cooperation and collaboration, and explore all avenues to make sure that there will never be conflict again between our two countries," President Sirleaf said, stressing the strong cultural and historic ties between the two countries.

The talks, which were organized through the Liberian Ministry of Internal Affairs, were the first time that chiefs and elders from both Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia had sat down to discuss reconciliation. Anyone who committed crimes or offenses during the conflict was invited to come forward and publicly seek forgiveness.

In addition to helping to organize and advise those involved in the talks, UNDP is also trying to bring peace to the region by empowering chiefs, elders and youths as local mediators and facilitators of future dialogue.

Though the peace agreement has been successfull in the region, and both sides seem committed to healing wounds from the civil war, some issues still cause fear and concern among the population.

While many of the 100,000 displaced by fighting have returned home, 12,000 refugees from Côte d'Ivoire still live in a camp in Zwedru. Many villagers are still nervous about armed groups in Côte d'Ivoire, unofficial checkpoints, difficult access to medical and psychological care for those who suffered trauma, and employment insecurity.

According to UNDP, the agreement is one step towards addressing these issues. And most locals say they are now optimistic about a long-term end to violence.

So far peace is already bringing about much-needed change. Cheyee Tarlue, a local businessman in Toe Town, Liberia, close to the border with Côte d'Ivoire, says his business was looted and property damaged by armed gangs on several occasions.

"The fighting was terrible. As it raged, no one would come to my store," Tarlue says. "But now that there is peace, I am starting to see customers from both sides of the border come to my store together. We are finally remembering that we have strong ties to one another as neighbours."