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UN Troops in Liberia Deploy to Rebel Zone - 2003-12-28

United Nations peacekeeping troops in Liberia have deployed to a rebel-held area for the first time since arriving in the West African country several months ago.

Pakistani troops were stationed Saturday in the strategic town of Klay about 35 kilometers north of the capital, Monrovia. The town is controlled by the country's main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

A group of rebels sang songs and shook hands with the peacekeepers as they deployed. Many said they were tired of war.

The U.N.'s top peacekeeping commander in Liberia, General Daniel Opande, told fighters and residents in Klay the deployment of U.N. troops in previously inaccessible areas begins the long road to reunite the country. He said peacekeeping units would continue on to the nearby rebel stronghold of Tubmanburg.

Saturday's deployment comes two days after the rebels blocked peacekeepers from entering their territory, saying they had not been informed about their arrival. The dispute was resolved after a meeting Friday between rebel representatives and U.N. officials.

More than 7,000 U.N. peacekeepers are in Liberia to moinitor a peace deal aimed at ending 14 years of almost non-stop civil war.

Their deployment in rebel-held areas is part of a U.N. plan to eventually disarm the rebels.