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Mediators Work to Bring Cease-Fire to Liberia - 2003-06-16


At peace talks in Ghana, West African mediators are trying to get Liberia's warring sides to agree to a cease-fire to end four years of fighting.

Mediators say Liberian President Charles Taylor will not seek a new mandate. His current elected term expires in January 2004.

But envoys for two rebel groups at the peace talks in Ghana have restated their demand for him to step down immediately, before they sign a cease-fire.

Fighting stopped around Monrovia last week, after militias who support Mr. Taylor pushed back the rebels. The fighting forced tens of thousands of already displaced people to flee from aid camps into schools, churches, foreign embassies, and sports stadiums.

Visiting his farm on the outskirts of Monrovia, Mr. Taylor called Saturday for a return to life as normal in the Liberian capital. He also said, since there is not a cease-fire yet, he has instructed his soldiers to continue fighting the rebels, who control more than two-thirds of Liberia.

Robert Vanah Folly, a young Liberian who fled to Abidjan from Monrovia on a fishing boat two-weeks ago, says as long as Mr. Taylor remains in power, the situation will be unbearable.

"The situation is unbearable," said Mr. Folly. "People have lost their parents. People do not know where they are. People do not know what they are doing. We are always having gun sounds everywhere. Everywhere you go, there are rumors everywhere. Now we need peace in Liberia, but we will not [have peace], unless they change the president."

A special U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone indicted Mr. Taylor for war crimes on June 4, just hours after he arrived for the opening of the peace talks in Ghana. Ghanaian authorities allowed him to return to Liberia, saying the timing of the indictment was an embarrassment to their diplomatic efforts.

Investigators at the court say they have credible evidence another war crimes suspect, Johnny Paul Koroma, was killed two weeks ago in Liberia. Mr. Koroma was a former military ruler in Sierra Leone. One of his close collaborators and another war crimes suspect, former rebel leader Sam Bockarie, was killed in Liberia, after he returned from Ivory Coast last month.

Mr. Taylor has been accused of fueling instability throughout West Africa, by supporting rebels and smuggling timber and diamonds in exchange for weapons, charges he denies.

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