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ECOWAS set to send 1,200 more troops to Liberia

AS efforts to bring permanent peace and stability to Liberia, arrangements have been concluded by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to send 1,200 more troops to the war-ravaged country.

Reports made available to journalists in Abuja by ECOWAS yesterday, said the additional troops were in fulfilment of the commitment of troops-contributing member-states to restoration of peace in Liberia.

Accordingly, a contingent of troops, comprising five hundred soldiers is set to leave for Liberia this weekend, while the additional 1,200 is to leave at the end of next week.

Originally, the required number of troops for peacekeeping operations in Liberia was put at 5,000 but the commitment of troops-contributing member-states is currently limited to 3,250. However, by October this year, it is expected that the ECOWAS troops would converge with other international troops outside ECOWAS and Africa to form a United Nations force of about 12,000 to 15,000 soldiers.

The troops will oversee the smooth and peaceful political transition and general disarmament of both the rebel groups and the government forces.

With the outbreaks of hostilities which left over one thousand victims dead in Gbanga area of Liberia, indications from ECOWAS is that the peacekeepers would be deployed into the troubled areas.

ECOWAS added that its mission in Liberia, called ECOMIL, has embarked on the seizure of small arms and light weapons from the ethnic militia groups.

The seven nations contributing troops are Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Benin and Togo.

Among the highlights of activities scheduled for the end of this week is the securing of the Liberian water treatment plant.

ECOWAS also indicated that since its arrival in Liberia on August 12, there had been no fighting in Monrovia and that the Port had been opened with humanitarian and relief aid materials already flowing into victims in the country. Looting, they said, has also virtually ceased in ECOMIL war-weary controlled areas while the Busrod Island has been declared virtually weapons-free.

Meanwhile, troops from Ghana are joining a 900-man Nigerian soldiers leading a West African peacekeeping force in Liberia.

The contingent of Ghanaian soldiers were due to arrive in the country on Tuesday.

The peacekeepers are currently securing the capital, Monrovia, to facilitate the delivery of relief supplies, but they have not yet gone beyond the capital city.

The situation for hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Monrovia is improving - but the pace of aid deliveries remains slow.

An estimated one million people throughout Liberia need humanitarian aid. But the UN is demanding security guarantees before its workers resume full-scale relief operations.

Rebels have promised relief workers safe passage into territory still under their control.

But reports of skirmishes in the north and central parts of Liberia have raised security concerns among aid agencies.

Meanwhile, Liberia's interim President, Moses Blah, is in neighbouring Guinea, where he is to meet with President Lansa Conte.

Guinea has long been accused of arming Liberia's largest rebel group.

Blah is travelling through West Africa, meeting regional leaders.

He has already visited Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

Liberia's 14 years of conflict has a ripple effect in the region, stirring instability in Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea.

Blah is a caretaker leader who will hand over power to the chairman of a two-year transitional administration in October.

Last week, government and rebel delegates chose businessman Gyude Bryant to head the unity government comprising representatives from Liberia's two rebel groups, the former government of Charles Taylor, political parties and civil society groups.

Bryant and his vice-chairman, Wesley Johnson, will head the new government until new elections in 2005.

 

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