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Nigerian Peacekeepers to Deploy in Liberia; US Troops Arrive - 2003-08-06


The commanding officer of the Nigerian-led peacekeeping force in Liberia said his troops will deploy to various government-held parts of the capital, Monrovia, early Thursday. Meanwhile, a small group of U.S. military personnel has landed in Monrovia to provide logistical and humanitarian support for the peacekeepers.

Nigerian Brigadier General Festus Okonkwo has confirmed to VOA that the 500 mostly Nigerian peacekeeping troops in Liberia will begin patrolling government-held parts of the capital, Monrovia, at 8:30 a.m. local time. The troops can expect a hero's welcome in Monrovia, where residents are overjoyed at the prospect of peace.

Three Black Hawk helicopters landed at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia on Wednesday, carrying at least three members of a disaster assistance relief team and an unknown number of other military personnel. It is not clear if the military personnel are U.S. Marines attached to a task force of about 2,300 Marines aboard U.S. ships off the Liberian coast.

The U.S. liaison team is expected to work closely with the peacekeepers and give them logistical support, but, despite repeated calls by Liberians to intervene, Washington said U.S. troops would not take the lead in any large-scale peacekeeping mission in the war torn country.

In a phone call from a rebel-held area, Liberian journalist Winston Monboe told VOA that civilians want the rebels to stay after the peacekeepers are deployed because they are frightened of possible reprisal attacks from President Taylor's government troops.

"They're telling us that they're more comfortable with the rebels than even the government troops. It's quite unbelievable," Mr. Monboe said.

Mr. Monboe also explained the food situation in the rebel zone is far better than in the government controlled parts of Monrovia. He reports the rebels have allowed food to reach the people from the seaport they control.

"The living conditions are relatively improved. People have food here to eat. They go out, moving around. And it's quite unbelievable that you will see the kind of lives going on here," he said.

Mr. Monboe, who spoke with the rebels Wednesday, said they would welcome the deployment of the peacekeepers, as long as President Charles Taylor leaves the country.