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Annan Disappointed in Slow Deployment of Liberia Peacekeepers - 2003-07-16

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed disappointment at the slow pace of deployment of peacekeepers to Liberia.

Mr. Annan says he expected the arrival of a vanguard force of about 1,500 peacekeeping troops from ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, by the end of the month. Then, he says, Liberian President Charles Taylor would leave the country. When that happens, he says the United States would send reinforcements to join the ECOWAS troops and a longer-term United Nations force would be established.

But the secretary general said he is troubled by delays in carrying out the plan to end the Liberian conflict. "And this is very worrying, because the longer we delay the deployment, the more dangerous the situation gets," he said. "So I have asked my military advisors and other officers to be in touch with the ECOWAS forces with the us and see what can be done to accelerate their deployment."

Mr. Annan made his remarks following recent trips to West Africa and to Washington, where he met with President George W. Bush. He said that progress has been made. Mr. Annan said that an understanding has been reached that ECOWAS, the United Nations and the United States have a role to play in Liberia.

However, U.S. officials continue to work on the details of sending a possible and limited American force to the country, which was established by former U.S. slaves in the 19th century. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has met with members of the Senate to discuss the plan.

On political issues in Liberia, Secretary General Annan said that talks are continuing in Ghana to work on a two-year transitional government for Liberia to stabilize the situation, pave the way for disarmament and prepare for elections.

He said the international community continues to wait for Mr. Taylor, who is under indictment for war crimes, to step down and go to Nigeria.

"He has made a commitment not only to his African peers but to the whole world and one is expecting him to honor that commitment," said the U.N. chief of President Taylor. "So at this stage, we are acting on the assumption and the expectation that he will step down and leave office."

Meanwhile, as a relative calm has prevailed in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, a seven member U.N. assessment team is investigating the possible return of United Nations staff and aid workers.