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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Peacekeepers Arrive in Liberia

MONROVIA, Liberia -- The first West African forces landed Monday on an international rescue mission for Liberia to help end 14 years of carnage -- and oversee the departure of warlord-turned-President Charles Taylor.

"We know everyone is expecting us, and we hope to live up to their expectations," said Colonel Theophilus Tawiah of Ghana, the force's chief of staff.

In Monrovia, crowds milled on the main road from the airport, waiting for first sight of the troops.

"I want to see them with my own eyes. And when I do, even though I have no food, my belly will be big, and I will be happy," said Bangalu Wonwondor, a 62-year-old farmer, now a refugee.

Authorities said a total of 192 men and 15,000 kilograms of equipment would deploy Monday. The men are the first wave of a promised 3,250-strong West African deployment, to be followed within months by a UN peacekeeping force.

Allan Doss, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's representative in Sierra Leone, saw off the first troops from neighboring Sierra Leone on Monday.

"I wish you Godspeed and well in this historic mission to Liberia," Doss said. "The people of Liberia have suffered a lot, for too long. They need your help."

In all, 675 Nigerian soldiers and 18 of their officers assembled on the airfield to take part in the first deployment. West African leaders have promised the force to quell fighting in Liberia, where two months of rebel sieges on the capital have killed more than 1,000 civilians outright and all but cut off the refugee-crowded city of more than 1.3 million from food and water.

On Sunday, the leader of the peacekeeping force for Liberia sought to temper high expectations among the country's suffering people, saying the first troops would only secure the airport on the capital's outskirts.

In Monrovia, residents and refugees bought white T-shirts and gathered white cloths to prepare a welcome for the peacekeepers. It was unclear whether Monday's arrivals would even leave the airport, however.

Defense Minister Daniel Chea greeted the troops on behalf of the Liberian government. "We will do everything as a government to support them in their endeavor," Chea told reporters.

In Rome, the leader of the insurgent group behind the siege likewise promised cooperation with the peace troops and renewed pledges to turn over the embattled port, with its warehouses, to forces once they were on the ground.

"We are going to work with them," Sekou Conneh said, in Rome with an international mediating community. "They should be able to provide security for civilians, then we can withdraw."

Okonkwo said he has asked both sides to return to the positions they held when they signed a June 17 cease-fire, which has been broken repeatedly since then. He said he did not expect the peacekeepers to be attacked.

Debt-strapped Nigeria, which is overseeing the deployment, says it needs far more international backing for the mission, expected to eventually cost at least $2 million daily.

Taylor pledged Saturday to cede power on Aug. 11 -- meeting one demand by fellow African leaders and the United States. But his government has hedged on his promise to go into exile in Nigeria, saying he would leave only when enough peacekeepers are on the ground, and when a war-crimes indictment against him is dropped. Taylor is blamed for 14 years of conflict in Liberia that has killed more than 100,000 people, and is accused of trafficking and arming insurgents across the region.