A contingent of 140 Irish troops has arrived in Liberia to join peacekeeping operations. The United Nations force is preparing to deploy to more remote parts of the Liberian countryside.

The Irish soldiers form the first part of a 450 strong Irish force that will include a motorized battalion, members of the elite Ranger Wing as well as U.N. headquarters staff.

This is the largest contingent of Irish forces sent to join a U.N. peacekeeping mission since Ireland's involvement in peacekeeping operations in Lebanon, where 47 Irish soldiers died.

The Irish troops join their Bangladeshi counterparts as the only non-African forces on the U.N. mission so far. The U.N. force of 6,000 troops is due to swell to 15,000 by March 2004.

Although peacekeepers first began arriving in Liberia in August, they have yet to secure the whole country. Reports of fighting, while more sporadic, continue to emerge from the interior.

According to the U.N.'s chief information officer in Liberia, Margaret Novicki, the peacekeeping operation is progressing well, despite local skirmishes.

"Until such time as we have troops located all over the country, these kinds of things will probably go on, but by and large the situation is fairly calm around the country," she said.

Meanwhile, The Rotterdam, a Dutch ship equipped with special landing vessels, is moored off the Liberian coastline ready to begin the deployment of hundreds of U.N. peacekeeping forces to some of the less accessible parts of the Liberian interior.

The ship's officers say they hope to start deploying the first sea-borne troops by the end of the year.

Liberia has been ravaged by 14 years of civil war that ended last August when then president Charles Taylor bowed to international pressure and moved to exile in Nigeria. A transitional government is now in place and elections are due in 2005.