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Reports of  Renewed Liberian Fighting Casts Shadow Over Peace Efforts - 2003-08-25

In Liberia, reports of renewed and intense fighting away from the capital, Monrovia, have cast a shadow over efforts to restore peace. Meanwhile, the withdrawal of U.S. Marines has caused some disappointment in the country.

More fighting and attacks on villages are being reported in Liberia's northeast, a week after a peace deal had brought hopes of a swift end to 14 years of civil war.

Unconfirmed reports carried on local radio claim that hundreds of civilians have been killed in Nimba county, a remote and lawless area where few outsiders have dared to venture in the past three years.

Other reports in recent days carried accounts of fighting around Liberia's second city, Buchanan, and the central town of Gbarnga.

Although peacekeeping forces began arriving in Liberia two-weeks ago, they have yet to be deployed outside Monrovia. The capital remains crowded with displaced people too frightened to return to their villages until the countryside has been secured by the West African peacekeeping force in Liberia.

Ultimately, the West African troops will be joined by soldiers from other nations, and the operation will be led by the United Nations. The planned force is expected to be similar to a U.N. peacekeeping mission in neighboring Sierra Leone, which has just begun winding down after national elections were held there last year.

Meanwhile, 150 of the U.S. Marines stationed in Monrovia for 11 days to help with the establishment of the West African peacekeeping operation have returned to their ships anchored off Liberia's coast.

Their withdrawal is a disappointment to some Liberians who saw the U.S. involvement, however limited, as essential to securing an enduring peace in the war-torn country.

Another 100 Marines remain in Liberia, 70 of them guarding the U.S. Embassy, and the remainder working in an advisory capacity with the leaders of the West African peacekeepers.

The U.S. Marines said that they would be better able to support the peacekeepers by monitoring the situation from their ships. Washington previously confirmed that the Marines would leave Liberia altogether by the beginning of October.