Rebels with the group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, have agreed in principle to support a cease-fire in their battle against the government of Liberian President Charles Taylor. The announcement Thursday came at the end of a four-day meeting between Liberian political opposition leaders and rebels in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou.
The Liberian Leadership Forum in Ouagadougou drew opposition leaders from within Liberia as well as those in exile. They were joined by representatives of the rebel group, LURD, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, who had not appeared at a public forum since the start of their uprising in 1999.
The head of the rebel delegation, LURD's Vice Secretary-General Mustapha Kamara, said the rebels are willing to sit down and negotiate a cease-fire agreement. Mr. Kamara, however, said his group maintains its demand that President Charles Taylor must step down. And, he warned, LURD will intensify its attacks if the Taylor government does not accept the offer. He told VOA the rebels are ready to talk peace.
"The fact that we accepted the invitation to come to Ouagadougou to meet with other Liberians and political parties is a sign of our intentions," he said. "In fact, we were told that Mr. Taylor's party was invited. We showed that we are out for peace and that we are willing to talk with any Liberian. We are people [who are] out for peace. Mr. Taylor is not out for peace. He turned down the invitation to come."
Forum organizers say they invited Liberian government officials and members of Mr. Taylor's National Patriotic Party, but they say the invitations were not accepted. The Liberian government criticized the opposition groups for holding their meeting in Burkina Faso and not in Liberia. Opposition leaders say they did not hold the meeting in Liberia for security reasons.
The aim of the gathering in Ouagadougou was to reach a consensus among Liberia's armed and unarmed opposition, as part of their efforts to bring about political change in Liberia.
Those who organized the meeting say the agreement with the rebels does not mean they, as politicians, endorse the armed insurgency against President Taylor. Leaders said, however, they thought it important to bring everyone to the table for a discussion on Liberia's future.
In their final communiqué, the opposition groups said they are calling for the creation of an international contact group to broker cease-fire talks. The leaders want the United States, Nigeria, Britain, France, and Senegal to take part in the group.
The Taylor administration is under increasing military pressure from advancing rebels. It also continues to fell the economic and political effects of U.N. sanctions that were imposed due to Liberia's support of rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone.