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Liberian Rebels Call on Fighters to Halt New Offensive - 2003-06-06

Liberian rebels are calling on their fighters to stop a renewed offensive on the capital Monrovia while peace talks to end a four-year civil war get under way in Ghana. Negotiators for the rebels, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, are asking them to stop advancing onto Monrovia.

Their request followed a plea by the mediator at the peace talks in Ghana, former Nigerian military ruler Abulsalami Abubakar.

Mr. Abubakar told envoys at the talks taking place in the town of Akosombo the question of a cease-fire must be addressed urgently to avoid turning Liberia into what he called an endless killing field.

Ramin Rasfirasme, the West Africa spokesman for the World Food Program, says fighting has taken place in areas around Monrovia where there are many refugee camps.

"Thousands of already displaced people that used to live in camps are trying to reach Monrovia and security forces cannot stop them because you are talking big numbers - it's very volatile," he said. "Between eight to 10 kilometers from Monrovia you have a number of camps and the total population of those camps is about 120,000.

In Akosombo, Ghana's foreign minister, Addo Akufo Addo, also called for an immediate halt to fighting to, in his words, give the peace talks a chance to be meaningful. Envoys for a second rebel group, known as MODEL, have yet to arrive.

This has been an eventful week for Liberia's president, Charles Taylor.

He was in Accra Wednesday for the opening of the peace talks when the news broke that a U.N.-backed court had indicted him for war crimes and his support of rebels during Sierra Leone's civil war.

Ghanaian authorities said the indictment was an embarrassment to their diplomatic efforts and they let Mr. Taylor return to Liberia. Mr. Taylor also said a coup attempt was foiled while he was away.