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More Peacekeepers Needed in Liberia, says UN - 2004-01-02

United Nations officials in Liberia say they need more peacekeepers and aid workers to ensure the success of their mission.

A mandate approved in September was for up to 15,000 troops. The U.N. mission in Liberia has so far received about 8,000, from countries such as Nigeria, Bangladesh and Ireland.

Talks have been taking place since last week at United Nations headquarters in New York for participating countries to send more troops to this west African nation, which is trying to overcome two decades of conflict.

This comes as the troops already on the ground have started deploying in rebel-held areas, including the central port city of Buchanan. Until last week, U.N. troops had mostly remained in the capital, Monrovia.

The deputy of the U.N. mission in Liberia, Abou Moussa, says now is the time when more help is crucial. "We do hope and expect that we will get the full strength, so that we can deploy throughout Liberia," he said. "And, as these troops deploy it has to be backed up quickly afterwards by humanitarian activities in those areas.

"We are encouraging other U.N. agencies, as well as NGOs [non-governmental organizations] to finalize their programs, so that they can be on the ground and support the populations," he continued. "I have to tell you that I was there myself in Buchanan, and you could see the willingness of ex-combatants to hand over their guns."

U.N. troops are also planning to deploy in the western rebel stronghold of Tubmanburg, but this was slowed down when a bridge on the way to the city had to be reinforced for heavy equipment to pass.

These deployments are part of preparations for a disarmament process to begin at sites across Liberia. It started in Monrovia last month, but had to be quickly suspended when a U.N. camp in the capital was overrun by too many former pro-government combatants.

They had been promised money, training, food and lodging in exchange for their weapons, but the United Nations was not ready to help the more than 10,000 former fighters who showed up.

U.N. officials say they also are seeking help from their counterparts in missions in neighboring Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, to prevent weapons from circulating across Liberian borders as the disarmament process begins.

The civil war ended in August when former rebel turned president, Charles Taylor, fled into exile to Nigeria.