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Efforts Continue For A Liberian Ceasefire - 2003-06-13

West African mediators at Liberian peace talks in Ghana are trying to secure the signing of a cease-fire by all warring parties, so that the talks can proceed.

The mediators say they have assurances from the rebels and the government they will stop fighting, but getting the two sides to sign a cease-fire document is proving difficult.

Envoys for two rebel groups at the talks in the Ghanaian town of Akosombo are calling on Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down immediately.

Mr. Taylor says his welfare and the security of his supporters must be guaranteed, if he steps down when his elected term ends next year. He warned that if there is, in his words, an unceremonial departure, there will be a bloodbath in Monrovia.

Mr. Taylor also called for a United Nations-backed court in Sierra Leone to lift an indictment issued against him for war crimes, saying it was a political act that would mar Liberian peace efforts. Mr. Taylor has been accused of fueling instability throughout West Africa, including Sierra Leone, a charge he denies.

The indictment was issued last week, as Mr. Taylor traveled to Ghana for the opening of the peace talks.

He was forced to quickly return to Liberia, where a rebel offensive on Monrovia had just started.

David Hecht, a spokesman for the special court in Freetown, says the indictment is a judicial matter, not a political one, and it can only be lifted for judicial reasons. Therefore, he says, the court has no reaction to Mr. Taylor's request.

He says, "Well, the court's not reacting to it at all. At the moment, there's a judicial matter of an indictment, and there's no way that we can envisage it being dropped. If the prosecutor realized that the indictment was false, for instance that he made a mistake, then that might be a reason. But there is no certainty, no grounds that he could have the indictment dropped on political considerations."

Mr. Hecht is calling on all West African governments to arrest Mr. Taylor, if ever he travels outside his borders.

Inside Liberia, Mr. Taylor now controls only Monrovia, where militias fought back a rebel offensive earlier this week. Fighting has stopped since Tuesday.

Liberian authorities say up to 400 people were killed in the recent fighting, but this could not be independently confirmed. The World Food Program has started distributing emergency food rations to nearly 20-thousand refugees and displaced people who had fled into Monrovia.

Mr. Taylor, himself a former rebel leader, came to power after elections in 1997. The current insurgency began in 1999.