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Liberian Rebel Leader: We Will Cooperate With Peacekeepers - 2003-08-04

As peacekeeping troops began arriving in Liberia Monday, the leader of the main rebel group promised his forces would withdraw as soon as the peacekeepers are deployed in the capital, Monrovia.

The leader of the main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, said his rebel forces would help the peacekeepers move into Monrovia and then withdraw. Speaking in Rome, Sekou Conneh said he only wants to ensure that government forces do not attack civilians before his forces will pull back.

"We are prepared to receive the peacekeepers in Liberia, and as soon as they get into the country or to the port, and they will deploy to save the civilians, and then we are prepared withdraw immediately," Mr. Conneh said.

The rebel leader said every effort must be made to ensure the departure of Liberian President Charles Taylor. "We want to the international community to use more pressure on Charles Taylor to leave Liberia because he has promised to leave on several occasions and he's not leaving," he said.

Mr. Conneh called on the new peacekeeping force to ensure that Mr. Taylor leaves the country. The president has promised to resign next Monday, but he has not promised to leave the country.

Nigeria, which is providing most of the peacekeepers, has offered Mr. Taylor asylum, but he has also been asking for a war crimes indictment against him to be dropped before he leaves Liberia. An international tribunal has indicted Mr. Taylor for his role in the Sierra Leone civil war.

Rebel leader Sekou Conneh spoke at a meeting organized by the Catholic community of Sant'Egidio, which helped facilitate the Liberia peace talks. Those talks resulted in an agreement in June involving a cease-fire and President Taylor's departure, which is now being implemented and could end 13 years of civil war in Liberia.

Mr. Conneh said his group is committed to peace. He declared at the Rome meeting that his group has agreed that no leader from the three warring factions should occupy the position of president or vice-president in the transitional government that is to be established once President Taylor leaves office.