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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 January, 2004, 22:59 GMT
UN team starts Liberia groundwork

By Mark Doyle
BBC correspondent in Zwedru, Liberia

UN peacekeepers on tank in Liberian capital, Monrovia
UN soldiers have been deployed in Monrovia for some time
United Nations troops have begun patrolling eastern Liberia, expanding their control over sections of the lawless countryside.

The UN started operations in Liberia last year after a peace deal saw the exiling of former President Charles Taylor and the end of the war.

UN soldiers have controlled the capital for some time but they have limited presence in rural areas.

This deployment is evidence that the peace process is moving forward.

Clean-up operation

More than 1,000 Ethiopian troops arrived in the remote eastern town of Zwedru, deep in the Liberian jungle, a few days ago and peacefully occupied the area.

Zwedru is in some ways the place where Liberia's descent into chaos first began.

It is the home town of the leader of the country's first military coup d'etat - the late Samuel Kanyon Doe.

Lurd rebel commanders (l) with Unmil leader General Opande (r)
UN troops will work with rebels in the programme
That first coup in 1980 paved the way for military rule, counter-coups and ultimately the civil war which the United Nations is now trying to resolve.

The Ethiopians were welcomed by local people and by militia leaders, who said they wanted to disarm.

Major Tessfaye Tefera of the Ethiopian Brigade said:

"They are very, very, happy. All the people clap hands and say 'Victory, victory!' and so I think that is a good way."

Volatile situation

But the UN still has a huge task on its hands.

In large parts of Liberia there are no peacekeepers and lawless militias retain control.

And the limited military peacekeeping presence is in itself only a start.

Disarmament camp
Thousands of Liberian militia members still have to be disarmed
An estimated 40,000 Liberian fighters still have to be disarmed.

Some disarmament started last month, but it had to be put on hold when thousands of fighters swamped the peacekeepers demanding payment in return for their guns.

This highly volatile situation was partly a result of poor planning by the UN.

The disarmament is due to recommence in about a month's time.

And, until more guns are removed from circulation, the potential for renewed violence will remain.

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