FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE, AUG. 12 -- Troops from several West African nations assembling here to impose peace on neighboring war-torn Liberia continued to trickle into makeshift camps today amid signs of confusion and indiscipline that have come to characterize the civil disorder in Liberia itself.
Contingents from Nigeria and Ghana were the first to arrive a couple of days ago and have been setting up camp at a police training facility in the town of Hastings, about 15 miles outside Freetown. There, army units from throughout the westward bulge of Africa are being directed to beige-plasterboard barracks by a welter of hand-lettered signs reading: "Mali," "Gambia," "Nigeria," "Ghana," and so on.
The half-dozen nations expected to take part in the unprecedented military effort hope the combined force can bring about a truce in the bloody eight-month-old Liberian conflict, convene peace negotiations and establish an interim government to oversee elections. But preparations at Hastings today seemed anything but auspicious.
The base was adither with chaotic maneuver, as rifle squads in full battle gear trooped around in the steamy heat trying to find their quarters. At one point, a truck overflowing with troops took a sharp turn a bit too sharply, and sent a Sierra Leonean soldier head over heels into the brush, where he landed apparently unhurt atop his backpack and AK-47 assault rifle.
Three foreign journalists seeking to interview the base commander were stopped at the gate by a guard in Bermuda shorts and a floral shirt who identified himself as Captain David. David said the peace-keeping force, which may total as many as 2,500 troops, would probably move out "anytime from Monday" but that he wasn't sure. He also said he wasn't sure when the other troops would arrive, and he added that his boss, the base commander, would meet with the reporters shortly.
But a few minutes later, the journalists were ordered away from the gate with a peremptory wave from an officer wearing a black beret. Then, a lanky, red-eyed Sierra Leonean soldier wearing a scarlet MP patch on his arm promptly leveled his automatic rifle at the visitors and ordered them to leave.
Aiming the weapon at the reporters with his right arm and delicately balancing a neatly folded green rubber raincoat over his left, the soldier briskly marched the visitors several hundred yards up a dirt road, shouting all the way: "You double your steps! You double your steps!"
"I am being very aggressive with you people!" he thundered at one point. "You come here again and I will shoot you! You tell the people in America my name. This is the force of Sierra Leone."
The ruckus attracted a crowd of Nigerian onlookers from the base, who could watch the show over a low wall. A moment later, the MP ordered the reporters into their car, then pointed his rifle at the Sierra Leonean driver and shrieked: "You bring them here again and I will shoot you. . . ."
The soldier continued to level his rifle as the car rolled away, his raincoat still unruffled over his arm.
Meanwhile, as rebel factions were reported edging closer to the fortified mansion of President Samuel K. Doe in Monrovia, the shattered Liberian capital, speculation here centered on where and how the peace-keeping force would seek to intervene in the embattled city.
The most likely option seemed to be insertion by sea, because Monrovia's port is now controlled by a rebel faction led by Prince Johnson, who favors international intervention to end the war. All airfields in or near Monrovia are thought to be in the hands of rebel forces loyal to Charles Taylor -- who launched the insurrection to topple Doe last December and who opposes intervention -- and the 80-mile overland route from the Sierra Leone to Monrovia is also largely controlled by Taylor.
Officers from a Nigerian naval vessel moored in Freetown were seen meeting today with army officers at the camp in Hastings.