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Warning of 'danger' in delaying troop deployment, Annan outlines UN plans for Liberia

16 July United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today outlined the world body's likely strategy to help restore order in war-torn Liberia, beginning with the arrival of a promised West African force meant to ensure calm as President Charles Taylor steps down, and possibly paving the way for troops from the United States and elsewhere.

Speaking to reporters as he arrived at UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General said the plan is for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to send in a vanguard force of between 1,000 and 1,500 troops. Once they arrived, President Taylor would leave the country, and US and other reinforcements would move into Liberia, before a UN peacekeeping force is established for the longer term.

Mr. Annan added that he had hoped the vanguard force would be deployed at the latest by the end of this month, and said the possibility that it may take place later than that was worrying because "the longer we delay the deployment, the more dangerous the situation gets."

He told reporters "some progress" has been achieved in making all the parties involved - including the US and ECOWAS, as well as the UN - understand what is required. He has asked his military advisers and other officers to be in touch with the US and with the ECOWAS forces to see how troop deployment might be accelerated.

Asked what would happen if Mr. Taylor did not leave the country, the Secretary-General said he was not sure that was an option, "given the commitment he has given not only to his peers, but to the whole world." Mr. Annan added that when he and the Liberian President last spoke, he had the impression that Mr. Taylor would accept Nigeria's invitation to step down.

Meanwhile on the ground inside the beleaguered country, a seven-member humanitarian assessment team has arrived in the capital, Monrovia, and is talking with relief agencies to determine the security situation in preparation for the return of UN international staff.

Looting continues to be a problem in the capital, and a lack of security is preventing humanitarian agencies from having access to some 70 per cent of Liberia's territory.

In other news, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), together with its partners, is continuing food distribution to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in and around Monrovia. Also, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and World Heath Organization (WHO), in collaboration with Liberia's Health Ministry, have concluded the first round of polio immunization in Monrovia.

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