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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

LIBERIA: UNMIL deploys 1,000 troops near Ivorian border

ABIDJAN, 19 January 2004 (IRIN) - The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has deployed about 1,000 troops around the rebel-held eastern Liberian town of Zwedru, 320 km southeast of the capital Monrovia, near the border with Cote d'Ivoire, a spokesman said.

Zwedru, the provincial capital of Grand Gedeh County, is the headquarters of the rebel Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). It had been largely inaccessible to aid agencies since February 2003 when the rebels drove government forces out, sending neighbouring villagers fleeing across the border to Cote d'Ivoire.

"About 1,000 Ethiopian soldiers have been moving into several areas around Zwedru since last week," Lietenant-Colonel Borje Johansson, UNMIL military spokesman told IRIN on Monday.

"Although we have made Zwedru town our focal point, we have been deploying in areas around it and this is a process that will go on for the next few weeks," the spokesman said.

Zwedru is in the area where three aid workers from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), who were caught up in fighting in neighbouring Toe Town, were reported missing early last year. The bodies of two of the ADRA workers were found in March.

Since then, Zwedru had been inaccessible, except to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which sent a convoy of trucks from Monrovia to Zwedru in November, with supplies to help resettle people returning to their homes following the end of Liberia's civil war.

Johansson said the deployment in the southeast was part of an ongoing deployment by UNMIL all over Liberia and the response from the population was very positive. No reports or incidents in the course of deployment had been reported.

"We are happy that we have started to do what we are supposed to do," he told IRIN. UNMIL which has about 10,000 troops at the moment, hopes to reach its full capacity of 15,000 by the end of February or early March, Johansson added.

Apart from deploying throughout Liberia, UNMIL tried unsuccessfully to launch a disarmament, demobilisation and demobilisation (DDR) campaign on 7 December with one cantonment site on the outskirts of Monrovia, but subsequently postponed it to 20 January.

On 15 January, UNMIL announced that the start of disarmament had been postponed again to late February. It said extra time was needed to prepare four new reception and cantonment sites and to conduct an information campaign throughout Liberia to make all ex-combatants fully aware of how the disarmament process would work.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict

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