The first UN peace missions to Liberia's rebel-held far east have found deserted towns emptied of all but looting insurgents, and terrorized civilians under rebel grip or lying rotting, dead, in the bush.
A reporter accompanying General Daniel Opande, the Kenyan commander of Liberia's 3-month-old UN peace force, saw hamlet after hamlet still bloodied by pillaging fighters, or by persistent clashes between rebels and government hard-liners.
"There is no war, no more ground for you to gain," Opande exhorted rebels in the eastern town of Griae -- newly attacked, sacked and burned by the insurgents, four months after their leader signed the West African nation's peace deal.
Playing out in territory under control of the smaller of Liberia's two rebel movements, the continuing devastation underscores the difficulty a still-fledgling UN peace mission faces in ending rule by AK-47 in Liberia after 14 years of unchecked bloodletting.
Due to grow to the world's largest, at about 15,000, the UN force so far has seen only about 4,500 armed troops deploy. West Africans make up the bulk of the 4,500, with Bangladeshis the next largest contingent.
Opande's trip to the east marked a small, fact-finding mission; nationwide deployment can come only when the force moves far beyond its current starting strength.
Peacekeepers have been concentrated in Monrovia, the capital, calm since August, when West African peace troops landed and warlord-president Charles Taylor fled into exile.
An Aug. 18 power-sharing deal brought rebels of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and the smaller eastern-based Movement for Democracy in Liberia into a transition government with Taylor's followers.
But the UN general's word on the ground that MODEL rebel leader Thomas Nimely Yaya was now allied with the ex-Taylor government seemed to have little impact on the girl rebels and bare-chested boy fighters strutting with machine guns and Kalashnikovs.
Arriving in Griae, Opande's mission found rebels holding six hungry and frightened townspeople.
Insurgents had just dragged the men and women out of hiding.
"The war is our problem. When the war comes, we run into the bush," said 65-year-old Dennis Siaway, barefoot like the rebels' other shaken captives.
Peacekeepers left with the civilians still trapped in the rebel-held town.