MONROVIA, Liberia – Liberian authorities will pull government forces from a main road connecting the newly calm capital with the volatile interior, making way for African peacekeepers to enter the countryside, the defense minister said Sunday.
A peacekeeper deployment planned for Saturday was postponed after Defense Minister Daniel Chea (search) said he needed to remove his forces first.
Chea said Sunday he'd given orders for the removal of more than 3,000 fighters from the road, and that a contingent of about 600 Guinea Bissau peace troops would move in Monday.
The area saw 50,000 Liberians fleeing what they believed was fighting between rebels and government troops last week. All sides have been accused of staging phony attacks to scare Liberians conditioned by 14 years of war into leaving their homes, ostensibly to loot them.
The government fighters would be sent to off-road areas around the town of Totota (search), which residents also fled last week, Chea said.
A scout team of peacekeepers headed north of Monrovia (search) on Sunday to check the withdrawal, top force official Col. Theophilus Tawiah told The Associated Press.
The peacekeepers are expected to establish a stronghold at Kakata — a midway point between Monrovia and reported frontlines — and then fan out "thinly" up the road around Totota, Tawiah said.
Rebels are about 20 miles beyond Totota but deny making advances since an Aug. 18 peace agreement between their leaders and Liberia's government. Rebels had fought since 1999 to oust Charles Taylor (search), the former president who stepped down last month and went into exile in Nigeria.
Tawiah said 95 soldiers from Ghana arrived in Liberia late Saturday night, bringing the peace force to nearly 3,150. Another 130 Ghanian troops were expected Sunday. The force is expected to reach its full strength of 3,500 by Wednesday.