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Liberia Peace Talks Open in Ghana - 2003-06-04


Liberian peace talks are opening in Ghana Wednesday, marking the first time warring parties will meet since an insurgency began in 1999. West African leaders hope a resolution of the war in Liberia could restore stability to the region.

Before leaving for the talks' opening ceremony in Accra, Liberian President Charles Taylor said he would do anything to bring peace to Liberians.

But he also said he will not relinquish power. Mr. Taylor says he will not be negotiating directly with Liberian rebels, leaving that task to his main envoy, the minister of state for foreign affairs, Lewis Brown.

Wednesday's opening ceremony will be attended by Mr. Taylor, as well the presidents of Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Mr. Taylor will then return to Liberia.

In the coming days, working sessions will take place in the towns of Akosombo and Akuse, east of Accra. The talks are being brokered by the Economic Community of West African states and could last up to two weeks.

The chief mediator is former Nigerian President Abdulsalami Abubakar. Japan is donating $100,000 to help support the talks, where one of the topics will be reaching a cease-fire.

Fighting continued in Liberia Tuesday in areas just 30 kilometers from the capital, Monrovia.

Liberia's main rebel group, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, known as LURD, has said it will only discuss a cease-fire if Mr. Taylor steps down.

The LURD rebels, who accuse Mr. Taylor of being a dictator, began their insurgency in northern Liberia in 1999. A newly emerged eastern-based group, known as the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, started fighting this year. Together, both rebel groups now control more than half of Liberia.

Liberia accuses Ivory Coast and Guinea of backing the Liberian rebels, but Liberia's government has also been accused of backing rebels in Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor is himself a former rebel leader.

The United Nations has recently renewed sanctions against Liberia's government for its support of rebels in the region.