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Liberia Peacekeepers End 3-Day Arms Sweep - 2003-10-09

Peacekeeping forces in Liberia are concluding a program to clear the capital, Monrovia, of weapons as non-African forces arrive to bolster the U.N. peacekeeping operation. A stop-and-search policy is one of the tools the U.N. peacekeeping forces have used in Monrovia to try to rid the city of arms.

As part of the three-day cleanup, U.N. forces have set up roadblocks on main routes into the capital. Cars are checked for guns and other weaponry before being allowed passage into the city.

One of the routes was the scene of a fatal shooting last week, which erupted as rebel leader Sekouh Conneh drove into Monrovia for a meeting with the interim president.

According to Defense Minister Daniel Chea, the goal of the cleanup is to ensure that Monrovia is arms-free before the installation of the transitional government next week. Mr. Chea said the program had met with success, but he conceded that ridding Monrovia of weapons is an ongoing task.

"What we want to do is basically ensure that before the seating of the national transitional government that Monrovia and its environment be arms-free," he explained. "Given the number of fighters and the different categories of forces that are still in possession, I would be lying to you if I were to say that it would take a 24-hour period to clean up."

A C-130 Hercules transport plane flew into Monrovia Wednesday carrying the first non-African troops to join the newly augmented U.N. peacekeeping operation. The battalion of 800 Bangladeshi troops arrived from neighboring Sierra Leone, where it had been part of the UNAMSIL peacekeeping force credited with restoring peace and stability in that country.

Once at full strength, the United Nations force will have 15,000 soldiers as well as hundreds of police and military observers.

The first peacekeepers began arriving in Liberia in August, but they have yet to deploy throughout the country, and reports of fighting continue to mar the agreed peace.

A transitional government is to be installed in Liberia on October 14, headed by businessman Guyde Bryant. That government has the job of staging national elections and securing peace and stability in war-ravaged Liberia.