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UN Official Hopes for 15,000 Peacekeepers in Liberia by November - 2003-09-11

A senior United Nations military adviser says he hopes to have a 15,000-strong peacekeeping force in Liberia by mid-November. A Security Council vote authorizing the force is expected next week.

The international community is responding well to a call for troops to man the planned U.N. peacekeeping force in Liberia. That was the word Thursday from Major General Patrick Cammaert, military adviser for U.N. peacekeeping operations.

General Cammaert was reluctant to say which countries are potential contributors, saying the negotiations are at a critical stage. But he did say India and Pakistan are among those that may send troops.

The Dutch general said he will travel to Liberia next week to assess the state of the current 3,000-strong West African peacekeeping force currently on the ground. If qualified, these mostly Nigerian troops would be transformed into blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers, effectively becoming the backbone of the new force.

The Security Council is likely to vote on authorizing the force late next week, with the U.N. assuming responsibility for peacekeeping on October first. General Cammaert said the lesson learned from past peacekeeping missions is to get as many people on the ground as quickly as possible.

"One of the lessons learned is the need to avoid a kind of incremental approach," he said. "You remember when UNUMCIL in Sierra Leone was started, there was 5,000 and the situation deteriorated and another 5,000 and then it went up to 17,800. We try to avoid it. As I said, penny wise and pound foolish. It's better to do it immediately, properly, at beginning. Because it shortens the mission and in the end it is much cheaper.

He said he hopes to have a proper force in place by mid-November.

General Cammaert said the United States is considering sending a contingent of staff officers to the peacekeeping force. The role of those troops, however, would likely be limited to training a small Liberian army.