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More West African Peacekeepers Deployed in Liberia

Officials of the West African peacekeeping force in Liberia say that deployment of troops beyond the capital is going ahead.

Five hundred peacekeepers are moving to the north-central town of Kakata. They are the first troops to establish a substantial presence outside of the capital Monrovia since peacekeeping forces began arriving in Liberia at the beginning of August.

The area around Kakata has been one of the most volatile in the country over the last few weeks. Thousands of civilians have fled camps in the area, frightened by the approach of real or rumored fighting.

There are currently 3,000 west African peacekeepers in Liberia. The force is due to reach its full capacity of 3,500 by the middle of next week.

But this is far below the number needed to restore stability throughout the lawless countryside. According to Jacques Klein, the U.N. special representative to Liberia, an international peacekeeping force of at least 15,000 troops is needed. If approved, a force of this size would be the largest U.N.-mandated peacekeeping operation in the world.

Such large peacekeeping missions have been seen in the region before. At its height, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in neighboring Sierra Leone was made up of more than 17,000 troops and was widely applauded for securing the end of a similarly protracted civil war.

While the peacekeeping operation continues its advance, Jacques Klein said he was looking into allegations of embezzlement against exiled former president, Charles Taylor. According to Mr. Klein, latest reports show that Mr. Taylor left Liberia with $3 million (US) meant for a disarmament program.

Charles Taylor, the one-time rebel leader who cemented his power through the ballot box, has already been indicted in neighboring Sierra Leone for war crimes.