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Rights Group Disappointed with US Military Commitment to Liberia - 2004-01-21

Human Rights Watch says more peacekeepers are needed in Liberia to stem ongoing violence and to ensure disarmament efforts are successful. But, defense officials say the United States has no plans to commit any fresh troops to the West African country.

In a document released ahead of a planned donors' conference on Liberia next month in New York, Human Rights Watch voices disappointment over the U.S. military commitment to the West African country.

The U.S.-based human rights monitoring group acknowledges the Bush administration has made what it calls significant financial contributions to Liberia, in excess of $200 million.

But it says there has been no meaningful U.S. military assistance.

U.S. Marines were deployed to the Liberian capital, Monrovia, last year to bolster security at the American Embassy and to provide assistance to West African peacekeepers.

But the bulk of a U.S. Task Force for Liberia, some 2,000 Marines, remained aboard a flotilla offshore and departed Liberian waters when the United Nations took over the West African regional peacekeeping effort.

A small number of U.S. military personnel remained in Monrovia for a short time after the amphibious assault group sailed off.

But a Pentagon spokesman says there are currently no American forces in Liberia outside of those guarding the embassy. There are also no plans to deploy any fresh troops, according to other defense sources.

The Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Dan Hetlage, dismisses the criticism voiced by Human Rights Watch.

The spokesman tells VOA President Bush stated last August that the U.S. military role in Liberia would be limited in duration and scope and chiefly designed to aid international peacekeepers.

Human Rights Watch says only half of the 15,000 peacekeepers authorized by the United Nations have arrived in Liberia. It says the vast majority remain concentrated in and around Monrovia.

The group says in areas that lack peacekeepers, fighters who took part in Liberia's armed conflict have been raping and looting civilians.

Human Rights Watch says international donor countries should provide more troops for the peacekeeping mission.