Two Liberian officials reported killed

MONROVIA, Liberia -- Two Liberian deputy Cabinet ministers who were arrested last month when a coup plot was announced have been killed, relatives of the men said Tuesday.

The ministers were arrested June 5 about the time President Charles Taylor announced he had uncovered the plot.

Relatives said they were informed that Issac Nuhan Vaye, deputy minister of public works, and John Winpoe Yormie, deputy minister of national security, were killed.

Harrison Karnwea, a cousin of Yormie's, said Taylor informed the relatives Sunday that the men died in circumstances that needed to be investigated. He said Taylor did not elaborate.

Presidential Press Secretary Vaanii Paasawe confirmed the two deputy ministers were dead, but said he had no immediate explanation of the circumstances.

Vice President Moses Blah was initially accused of involvement in the alleged coup plot and fired and imprisoned, but was quickly reinstated.

Under indictment

Taylor, who launched Liberia's 1989-96 civil war, is surrounded in Monrovia by rebel forces demanding his ouster. Taylor is also under indictment by a war crimes court in Sierra Leone on accusations that he supported a brutal rebel movement there.

President Bush has demanded that Taylor resign. He said Monday that any deployment of American troops to Liberia would be limited in size and duration and would depend on Taylor's stepping down and leaving the country.

Liberia was founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves.

In Accra, Ghana, Liberian government and rebel negotiators said Tuesday they were close to finalizing a power-sharing deal in which Taylor would have no role.

Taylor has said repeatedly that he would step down when a peacekeeping force arrives in the country. The cease-fire agreement also stipulates he would have no role in the transition.

Both sides said they hope to have an intermediate government ready as early as next week, when regional west African peacekeeping troops are expected to deploy in the war-ravaged country.

"Most of the job has been done. It's just to cross the Ts and dot the Is," said Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former Nigerian military ruler brokering the peace accord.

Rebels control most of Liberia. Following a push into the capital last month, they were rebuffed by forces loyal to Taylor. The fighting killed hundreds of people.

West African nations have promised to send up to 1,500 troops within days, but urged the United States to take the lead.

Bush on Monday gave no indication he was close to a decision about sending troops, and aides said they didn't expect one this week.

He offered no hint of whether any U.S. contingent would comprise military advisers, humanitarian experts or soldiers.