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UN Orders Liberian Rebels to Dismantle Roadblocks - 2004-02-05

United Nations peacekeepers have ordered Liberian rebel groups to dismantle roadblocks throughout the country, as the U.N. troops work to expand their control.

The deputy force commander of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, Major General Joseph Owonibi, says he has given direct orders to the former rebels to eliminate the roadblocks and checkpoints immediately.

General Owonibi says there are some areas where U.N. peacekeepers have already dismantled rebel roadblocks, but that work remains to be done in the interior.

"We have noticed in the encouraging reports now, in places where we had dismantled them, they have not been mounted back," he said. "But again, there are certain areas where such checkpoints have been reproduced or mounted back, and such U.N. troops have to clear them."

A Liberia analyst with the International Crisis Group, Stephen Ellis, says roadblocks have helped fighting factions in Liberia finance their war efforts.

"It enables them to screen people who go past, to control commerce, and, of course, to make money by shaking people down [demanding money] at these roadblocks," explained Mr. Ellis.

The elimination of the roadblocks is underway, as more international peacekeepers are due to arrive in Liberia.

Of an expected force of 15,000, 10,000 troops are already on the ground, but more are expected soon from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

The troops are also preparing sites for a stalled disarmament process to begin in areas under the control of former rebel groups.

Earlier this week, the leader of the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, Sekou Conneh, encouraged his followers to hand over their weapons, proclaiming that the war is over.

Mr. Conneh made the statement from his group's northeastern stronghold of Gbarnga, where he was accompanied by U.N. troops.

Fighting in Liberia ended six months ago, when former President Charles Taylor went into exile in Nigeria.