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Thousands of Peacekeepers Needed in Liberia, says UN Official - 2003-08-29

A senior U.N. official says as many as 15,000 peacekeepers may be needed in Liberia to assure security for aid workers.

Senior U.N. Official Ross Mountain calls Liberia the most neglected country in Africa. He says the international community has paid scant attention to the country throughout its long, bloody civil war and humanitarian assistance for Liberia has been insufficient.

He says media coverage of battles in and around Monrovia in the past few weeks has attracted public attention to Liberia's problems, but, as fighting subsides, the country is slipping back into obscurity.

"We are afraid that Liberia will once again fall off the map and be forgotten," he said. "That would be a very great tragedy."

Mr. Mountain has been appointed as Special U.N. Coordinator for humanitarian aid in Liberia.

He says Liberia is in such a mess that aid agencies will have to start from scratch in rebuilding the country.

"There is almost not a single person in the country that has not been affected by the war," he added. "We talk about internally displaced and maybe there are a half a million of those. But everybody has either been looted or harassed or chased out over the last 14 years. I cannot think of one spot, one village where the people are untouched."

Mr. Mountain says progress is being made in getting supplies into Monrovia and work is moving ahead to get the capital's port, lights and the water pumps functioning again. The big problem, he says, is outside the city where aid distribution is hampered by lack of security.

Mr. Mountain says security should improve once the U.N. Security Council agrees to send a U.N. force of 15,000 soldiers there. But he says humanitarian needs cannot wait for these troops to be deployed.