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UN Official to Ask for Strong Liberia Force

The top United Nations envoy to Liberia, Jacques Klein, is preparing to ask the Security Council for about 15,000 troops to help stabilize the troubled West African nation. But he says rebuilding Liberia remains the greatest challenge ahead.

Mr. Klein says the Security Council should learn from past peacekeeping missions and authorize a large force for Liberia now.

"We are asking for a fairly large-sized force because, to be candid, I do not think we want to make the mistake we made in Sierra Leone of going in too light and having to ramp up," he said. "I think it is better to go in heavy and once the job is done draw down after a year or so."

The special representative to Liberia is expected to make his appeal for troops to the Security Council next week. Mr. Klein says he has already discussed the situation with nations that may contribute troops, including Bangladesh, India, Ireland, Jordan, Pakistan and several South American nations.

Moves toward setting up a peacekeeping force come one month after the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution authorizing the deployment of regional forces to Liberia.

The measure set an October deadline for the council to lay the groundwork for a United Nations peacekeeping force.

U.S. forces remain offshore to provide logistical support to peacekeepers in Liberia, which was created in the nineteenth century by freed slaves from the United States.

Mr. Klein says his most pressing concern remains helping Liberia's suffering population and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, destroyed by more than a decade of war and neglect.

But Liberia desperately needs funds for reconstruction. Mr. Klein says it appears President Charles Taylor took much of Liberia's money with him when he went into exile in Nigeria last month.

"We had a president who was his own treasury," said Jacques Klein. "That means whatever resources Liberia had, the ships registry, the rubber plantation, the import and export of fuel, all that money went to him. And when he left, surprisingly enough, the money also left. So the new government has basically an empty treasury."

Mr. Klein says he hopes to hold an international donor conference for Liberia at the end of the year. In September, the United Nations launched an appeal for $69 million for humanitarian aid.