The UN peacekeeping force in Liberia will deploy troops to the rebel strongholds of Buchanan, Tubmanburg and Gbarnga in the next few days and should have most of the country covered by the end of January, General Daniel Opande, the Force Commander, said on Thursday.
About 2,000 extra UN troops have arrived in Liberia over the past two weeks, bringing the force strength up to more than 7,000 men. Opande said more were on their way from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ethiopia.
"Our current strength is 7080 men and women in total. We are coming too close to half of our full strength of 15,000," the Kenyan general told a press briefing. "We have the resolve, energy and determination to begin stretching out and this is why we are beginning to deploy in LURD, MODEL and former government-controlled areas," he added.
Opande said he hoped the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) would be able to establish permanent garrisons of peacekeeping troops in Gbarnga, a LURD stronghold 140 km northeast of Monrovia, and Buchanan, a port city controlled by MODEL, 120 km southeast of the capital, by the end of this month.
It would also station forces in the LURD-controlled town of Tubmanburg, 50 km northwest of Monrovia, "within the next few days," he added.
Opande said the northern counties of Nimba and and Grand Geddeh would follow and within a month UNMIL should have forces stationed in every main town in Liberia where there had recently been tension or fighting.
West African peacekeepers began arriving in Liberia in early August, shortly before the former government signed a peace agreement with the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) rebel groups that ended 14 years of civil war.
The West African soldiers became part of UNMIL in October, but until now the UN force has lacked sufficient troop numbers to deploy much beyond the capital and its immediate surroundings.
On 7 December, UNMIL began a programme to disarm and demobilise all three Liberian armed factions. However, it was forced to put the operation on hold 10 days later because it simply did not have the resources to cope.
The exercise is due to resume on 20 January, by which time many more UN peacekeepers should have arrived and two new demobilization camps, to cater specifically for LURD and MODEL fighters will have been established.
Opande said: "As we speak, I have Pakistani brigade headquarters and two companies. We have finalized their deployment plans into LURD-controlled areas of Tubmanburg and beyond. If all goes well, we can see them properly installed in Tubmanburg within the next few days."
"The Bangladeshi brigade is going to deploy in Gbarnga and Buchanan and also these deployments will begin in the next few days and if possible, by the end of the year," he added.
The UN Force Commander said the Ethiopians blue-helmet troops who began arriving Sunday would be sent to MODEL-held zones in southeastern Liberia.
" We might even deploy the Ethiopians by the first or second week in January in Zwedru and beyond", Opande added. Zwedru near the Ivorian border, is the MODEL-held headquarters town of Grand Geddeh county.
He said the commanders of the UN missions in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire met on Tuesday in Monrovia to work out a plan of action to curb any cross-border movements of arms between the three countries.
"We are going to work together to ensure that the borders are properly policed so that no arms are elements are moving from country to the other. If they are, we can halt them and bring the situation under control".
LURD presently controls Liberia's western frontier with Sierra Leone, while MODEL controls the eastern frontier with Cote d'Ivoire.