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Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone Hold Talks - 2001-08-24

Top officials from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone say they have agreed to take some steps toward ending a complicated dispute involving the three countries.

The announcement came late Thursday at the end of a meeting of cabinet ministers of the three countries in the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown.

The unprecedented gathering was aimed at resolving a dispute that has been festering for years. The nations, which make up the group known as the Mano River Union, have in the past accused each other of sponsoring rebel activities or carrying out cross-border attacks.

The dispute intensified after September of last year when fighting in southern Guinea between rebels and Guinean government forces. Guinea accused Liberia of sponsoring the rebels, while Liberia in turn accused Guinea of supporting insurgents who are trying to overthrow Liberian President Charles Taylor. Sierra Leone accused Liberia of sponsoring rebels on its territory.

The meeting in Freetown resulted in some key agreements, the most important being a commitment to recommend the extradition of foreign dissidents. Sierra Leone Minister of Safety and Security Charles Margai read the announcement at the end of the meeting. "To put an end to the endemic problem of dissidents, armed groups, and other paramilitary forces involved in the de-stabilization of states of the subregion," he said, "the committee recommended that all such groups and individuals be apprehended and turned over to their country of origin."

Officials agreed to meet in the Guinean capital, Conakry, on September 8 to discuss the agenda of a summit that will bring together the leaders of all three nations.

The discussions among the three come as disarmament continues in Sierra Leone, signaling what many believe is the end of a 10-year civil war. Liberia has been under stepped-up sanctions since May, after its government failed convince the United Nations that it had stopped supporting Sierra Leonean rebels.

Amid signs that fighting was spreading across the region, the United Nations called on Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to resolve their differences.

Fighting in the region displaced hundreds of thousands of people, causing what U.N. refugee agency officials earlier this year described as the world's most pressing humanitarian crisis.