Liberia talks progressing; rebels want Taylor out

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

ACCRA, Ghana -- Mediators reported a breakthrough Monday in cease-fire talks to quell Liberia's increasingly bloody civil war, while rebel groups and mediators said there was an agreement for warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor to cede power.

Parties to the talks a cease-fire could be signed as early as today.

"The parties are on board," said Sonny Ugoh, an official with the west African regional bloc which is mediating the talks in Ghana, a neighboring West African country.

Ugoh and Liberian rebel representatives, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Liberian rebels would join the government to sign the cease-fire today after returning to Liberia to brief fellow insurgents.

"I can assure you that we are very close," rebel delegate Kabineh Janeh told reporters, as talks broke for the night.

A delegate for the Liberian government side, Mohamed Dukuly, would say only that progress had been made.

Ugoh, the West African mediator, said negotiators had reached a deal that stipulated formation of a transitional government for Liberia within 30 days of the cease-fire.

Ugoh said Taylor, who has ruled Liberia since 1997, would be excluded from the new government.

Delegates, under West African and international mediation and U.S. pressure, have been meeting since early June to try to end fighting in Liberia's 3-year-old civil war which threatens to overrun the capital, Monrovia.

The city is home to 1 million residents and hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The rebels first entered the capital June 5, but have been beaten back repeatedly by government troops.

Taylor, a leader in 14 years of intermittent conflict in Liberia, has signed deals before, only to break them. West African mediators also have been noted for overplaying possible progress.

Taylor announced as recently as June 4 he would step down, but never carried through.

Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century, has seen more than 1 million people displaced internally during the rebellion, marked by murder, rape and robbery of civilians.

At least 300,000 Liberians have fled to neighboring countries, helping to destabilize much of West Africa.

Announcement of a breakthrough came hours after talks were reported stalemated over the rebel demands that Taylor resign as part of any cease-fire.

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