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Liberia Rebels Leaders Urge End to Offensive Against Monrovia - 2003-06-08


The main rebel group in Liberia is calling for its fighters to end an offensive on the capital, Monrovia, for humanitarian reasons. But the rebels also issued an ultimatum to President Charles Taylor, giving him three days to step down.

In a statement issued late Saturday, the leader of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, Sekou Damate Conneh, called for an immediate cease-fire on humanitarian grounds.

LURD rebels have been moving closer to the center of the capital, Monrovia, in recent days, but on Saturday, government forces started pushing them back. The recent fighting has led thousands of already displaced people to flee toward the center of Monrovia.

The rebels' statement also called on President Taylor to step down within 72 hours to avoid bloodshed in Monrovia. The statement says LURD recognizes Mr. Taylor not as the leader of Liberia, but as a wanted international criminal.

During the opening of Liberian peace talks in Ghana Wednesday, a U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone unveiled an indictment against Mr. Taylor for alleged war crimes during Sierra Leone's civil war, in which he supported the Revolutionary United Front.

Ghanaian authorities said they were embarrassed by the timing of the indictment and they allowed Mr. Taylor to return to Liberia, where he says his forces also foiled a coup attempt while he was away.

Peace mediators in Ghana have postponed the resumption of the talks to end four years of civil war until Monday, because envoys for another group, known as MODEL, have yet to show up. Rebels now control more than two-thirds of Liberia.

Mr. Taylor is himself a former rebel leader who was elected in 1997 after seven years of bloody civil war. Liberia was founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves as a haven of liberty.

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