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Liberia's Main Rebel Group Declares Ceasefire - 2003-07-29


The main rebel group in Liberia has declared another ceasefire. Previous ceasefires lasted only briefly. The rebels say this time the ceasefire will continue until an international peacekeeping force arrives.

The rebel representative at peace talks in Ghana says the ceasefire pledge is contained in a letter from the rebel leader to the U-S ambassador to Liberia. The rebel delegate says the forces of the group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, known as LURD, will stop fighting immediately and withdraw to their stronghold in the capital's port area.

On Tuesday, government troops continued to battle another rebel group in Liberia's second largest city, Buchanan. The government says its forces are trying to push the rebels back after they took control on Monday.

The offensive on Buchanan was staged by the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL. Until Monday, MODEL fighters had largely adhered to a cease-fire agreement brokered in June. MODEL is the smaller of the two main rebel groups in Liberia, but it is relatively disciplined and well equipped.

The fall of Buchanan to the rebels was followed by a spree of robbery and looting, with gunfire sounding through the night in the city's streets.

President Charles Taylor has promised to step down several times in recent weeks, but he says he will not do so until a peacekeeping force is in place.

Regional peacekeepers have been promised to Liberia. But at talks in Ghana, African leaders have so far failed to come to any decision on when those forces would be deployed. A key reason for the delay is the question of who will pay for the peacekeeping force.

Nigeria has promised to provide the bulk of the regional force. Speaking in London on Tuesday, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo welcomed the Liberian rebels' ceasefire announcement, and said Nigerian troops should be ready to go there very soon, perhaps within the next few days.

He says, "I hope that the ceasefire will hold so that we can have interposing forces to ensure that they do not have a clash of arms again."

But unnamed sources within the Nigerian government have indicated that Nigerian troops will not be dispatched until the international community makes an adequate guarantee of financial assistance to cover the cost of the operation.

The United States has pledged 10 million dollars to support the operation, but that would only pay for a few days' upkeep of a peacekeeping force of any significant size.

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