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Fighting Continues in Liberia Despite Dialogue Offer - 2002-07-31

Liberian President Charles Taylor has renewed his offer to meet with the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). The rebels, who said this month they would be willing to support a cease-fire, have also said they are open to dialogue. But prospects for a meeting remain unclear.

Fighting has continued to rage in recent days between Liberian government forces and LURD rebels in the northwest of the country. Attacks have taken place over the past two weeks in areas including the counties of Lofa, Bong and Grand Cape Mount.

Both sides claim to have made advances, and are vowing to keep fighting until the other is defeated.

Despite the ongoing battles, both the government and the rebels this week said they would be, in principle, willing to engage in negotiations to end the fighting. President Charles Taylor said he would be willing to enter talks held under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on the condition that the rebels disarm.

LURD leaders say they would be willing to enter ECOWAS-brokered talks if the government ceases its attacks against rebel bases.

Observers say the biggest obstacle now remains the lack of trust between the two sides. The Inter-Religious Council of Liberia, a coalition of religious leaders, is working to broker a round of talks. IRCL Secretary General David Kiazolu is urging both sides to meet in order to stop what he said is the suffering of Liberians who have been caught in the war.

Mr. Kiazolu said negotiations should be held in a neutral setting.

Members of the Inter-religious Council traveled to Abuja, Nigeria, on Wednesday for discussions with ECOWAS officials about arrangements for a possible meeting between the government and rebels.

LURD fighters launched their attacks three years ago in a bid to remove President Charles Taylor from power. The fighting escalated this year, when insurgents took over a significant part of the country and staged hit-and-run attacks within 25 kilometers of the capital, Monrovia.

President Taylor declared a state of emergency in February. Since then, security forces have arrested a number of political dissidents and journalists. The arrests have prompted widespread condemnation by international human rights organizations.