MONROVIA: Liberia could experience an escalation of fighting in the coming weeks, says the United Nations special envoy to Liberia, Jacques Klein.
Some 3,500 UN troops are already deployed in the capital, Monrovia, but Mr Klein said the force was not yet sufficient to bring stability and disarm some 30,000 rebels.
He also rejected claims by Liberia’s interim President Moses Blah, that UN troops failed to prevent Wednesday’s gun-battle between rebels and government forces in Monrovia in which at least three people were killed.
"I think that President Blah doesn’t know what he is talking about," Mr Klein told BBC’s Network Africa programme, adding that the peacekeepers had, in fact, managed to turn back most of the heavily armed rebel convoy.
The incident happened when the leader of the main rebel group, Sekou Conneh, arrived for a first meeting with Mr Blah.
Mr Klein’s comments came two days after the official launch of the UN peacekeepers in Liberia.
The 15,000-strong UN mission is set to become the world’s biggest peace force but no new troops have arrived yet. A battalion of troops from Bangladesh is expected within two weeks, the UN says.
Monrovia is relatively calm but skirmishes continue in the rest of the country, where there are no peacekeepers.
Meanwhile, US President George W Bush on Thursday defended the limited role US troops played in Liberia, a day after the last US warship had left Liberia’s coast. "We have kept our word. We have done exactly what we said we would do," he said.
Mr Bush said US Marines had secured the airport and port to enable troops from the West African peacekeeping force to enter Liberia and then turn control of the peacekeeping mission to the UN. "We’ve kept a presence there... And the strategy has worked," Mr Bush said.
Mr Klein warned that there will probably be "an increased level of violence over the next four or five weeks", but said time "is running out for... murderers... who are raping, robbing and stealing from their own people".
He said that raising the UN peacekeeping force to its full strength would take up to three month, and until then the troops would not be able to disarm Liberia’s rebels. "You cannot do anything until you have sufficient force structure," Mr Klein said.
"We can’t put people in harm’s way needlessly to show some macho force. You have to have a sufficient force to do the job properly and that is what our planners are doing."
However, our correspondent says, the regional peacekeepers have already made a huge impact on the capital and the area around it, bringing a level of peace and stability Liberians could only dream of two months ago.http://jang.com.pk/thenews/oct2003-daily/04-10-2003/world/w1.htm