LETTER: Pointing the gun at Liberia

Sir: The conflict in Liberia is not simply a chaotic tribal melee ("30 Britons seek refuge in embassy", 10 April). At the heart of this tragedy lie struggles between political elites cynically exploiting disaffected young Liberians whose only opportunity for food, shelter, and a distorted sense of prestige comes from the barrel of a gun.

With over 1,200,000 people forced to flee their homes - swelled by a further 20,000 in the last five days - the immediate need for emergency aid to protect civilians from degrading conditions and cruel treatment is paramount.

However, if there is any chance of avoiding further conflict the United Nations and donors will have to act forthrightly to secure a durable political solution. Serious pressure must be brought to bear on the country's political leaders to reach a meaningful and accountable peace accord. At the same time the international community must provide constant support for efforts to demobilise, disarm, and reintegrate soldiers - most of them of school age - into civilian life.

If young fighters, who have known little but the tragedy of war, do not see they have an alternative to the gun, they will remain a destabilising force and future conflict is ever more likely.

Philip Bloomer

Senior Policy Advisor

Oxfam UK and Ireland