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Withdrawal of US Troops Worries Liberians

A Kenyan general is taking command of the new United Nations peacekeeping force in Liberia. But many Liberians are dismayed that U.S. troops have withdrawn.

General Daniel Ishmael Opande was formerly U.N. force commander in Sierra Leone. He assumes the same role in Liberia.

More than 3,000 West African peacekeepers are being given U.N. blue berets.

During the next few months, the African peacekeepers will be joined by troops from other countries. A battalion from Bangladesh is expected later this month.

The mission spokeswoman in the capital Monrovia, Margaret Novicki, says the start of the U.N. mandate will bring relief to Liberians.

"They have suffered for such a very long time and the fact [is] that the international community has brought a very strong mandate for the U.N. mission in Liberia," said Ms. Novicki. "They have authorized up to 15,000 troops, which will make this mission the largest current U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world. I believe that this is something of tremendous relief and comfort to the Liberian people that finally the security situation will be brought under control and that ultimately peace will be restored to this country."

But Liberian aid worker Sam Nagbe fears the initial peacekeeping force is too small, and that other troops will arrive too slowly. He says the capital, Monrovia, has been secured but that other parts of Liberia remain extremely volatile.

Mr. Nagbe also says many Liberians are disappointed that American troops, who were helping the west African peacekeepers, have already left.

"There are still clashes happening between the factions," he said. "Abuses are still being perpetrated by armed people against civilians. Humanitarian access is still low. And not allowing the deployment of an appreciable number of U.N. troops, that sort of creates some concern and worry for a lot of people that something might go wrong and then the U.N. troops may not be in a position to respond as rapidly as they would have done if the United States were around, if U.S. troops were around."

Rebels who fought four years to topple former president Charles Taylor have said they welcome the deployment of peacekeeping troops throughout the small west African nation, founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century.

They say the troop deployment could end skirmishes and looting involving both rebel forces and militias previously loyal to Mr. Taylor. Human rights groups are pushing for Mr. Taylor, now in exile in Nigeria, to be arrested on war crimes charges.