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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
New hitch for Liberia deployment
Ecomil soldiers check Liberians moving from rebel-held areas to Monrovia
Ecomil wants to put a halt to marauding militias
The first big deployment of West African peacekeepers outside the Liberian capital, Monrovia, has again been delayed.

A fact finding team has been sent by the West African force, known as Ecomil, to investigate reports of fighting on the main road to central Liberia.

An earlier delay had been resolved after Defence Minister Daniel Chea agreed to withdraw government troops from the area.

Ecomil wants to put its troops between government soldiers and two rebel groups to ensure they all respect the ceasefire they have signed, to enable humanitarian aid to reach hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

The deployment of 600 soldiers from Guinea-Bissau had been planned for Saturday, but the move was delayed at the last minute because of what the peacekeepers described as a "co-ordination problem" between them and the Liberian Government.

The Guinea-Bissau troops, looking well equipped and disciplined, had boarded their convoy and were about to leave Monrovia when the order came to disembark.

Beefing up deployment

On Sunday, Mr Chea said he had given orders for the withdrawal of "over 3,000 (soldiers) from the main road".

Displaced people flee Totota in central Liberia

He added that the government troops would be sent in the areas around the town of Totota, which last week saw streams of refugees fleeing what they believed was a rebel offensive.

Meanwhile, Ecomil's senior official Colonel Theophilus Tawiah told the Associated Press news agency that a reconnaissance team was heading north of Monrovia to check the withdrawal.

Colonel Tawiah also said that 95 soldiers from Ghana arrived in Liberia on Saturday, bringing the Nigerian-led force to nearly 3,150.

Further Ghanaian soldiers were due to arrive on Sunday, he said, and the force was expected to reach its full strength of 3,500 troops by Wednesday.

Marauding

The BBC's Mark Doyle in Monrovia says the delay in deployment will have been a big disappointment to Liberian civilians, who want the peacekeepers to move in the areas outside Monrovia and stop the activities of marauding militias.

He says people in the rural areas were gathering to welcome the troops and their level of anxiety would increase as a result of the postponement.

Last week, 50,000 terrified civilians fled a camp for displaced people outside Monrovia after a shooting incident.

The negotiations over when and where the Nigerian-led force can deploy are deeply political, with the peacekeepers wanting to keep all sides apart and the belligerents wanting to consolidate their ground ahead of the arrival of the troops.


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