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Liberia Cease-Fire Opens Way for Transitional Government - 2003-06-18

A cease-fire has taken effect in Liberia, paving the way for negotiations to establish a transitional government without President Charles Taylor.

The cease-fire, signed Tuesday in Accra by envoys for Liberia's government and two rebel groups, took effect a few hours later in Liberia.

The deal calls for 30 days of negotiations between the warring sides and political parties to establish a transitional government without Mr. Taylor.

It also calls for a 15-member joint verification team to be sent to Liberia to prepare for the possible deployment of international peacekeepers.

The U.S. State Department and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan quickly applauded the deal, saying it gives hope to end a four-year conflict that has caused turmoil throughout West Africa.

But many Liberians are more skeptical. The deal negotiated by West African mediators does not say when Mr. Taylor must step down.

The Liberian president, himself a former rebel, has not yet reacted publicly. A government-backed radio station announced only the cease-fire and made no mention of the provision excluding Mr. Taylor from power.

There were brief celebrations Tuesday in Monrovia, but residents quickly dispersed, fearing there could be reprisals. Pro-Taylor forces control Monrovia, while rebels controls most of the rest of Liberia.

A U.S.-based spokesman for the rebels, Bodioh Siapoe, says the deal was hastily put together and that it now gives time for Mr. Taylor to fight back.

"It is a dismal failure that we have come to this point," said Mr. Siapoe. "Charles Taylor has played it again. He has played the entire international community trying to ask for a truce whereby he would rearm and do what he knows how to do best."

Mr. Siapoe points out that Mr. Taylor signed and broke more than a dozen cease-fires during the 1990s insurgency that brought him to power. The rebel spokesman says Liberia's problem would have been solved if Ghanaian authorities had arrested Mr. Taylor while he was in Accra earlier this month, hours after a U.N. backed court indicted him for war crimes for his role in supporting rebels in Sierra Leone.

Instead, the Ghanaians allowed Mr. Taylor to return to Liberia. The court in Freetown says the indictment still stands, and that Mr. Taylor should have his day in court, whether or not he is president.