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Mediators:  Liberian Government, Rebels Will Stop Fighting - 2003-06-11

West African mediators say they have received assurances from Liberia's government and rebels that they will stop fighting so that peace talks can begin in Ghana. Liberian President Charles Taylor faces increasing pressure to step down.

Ghana's foreign minister, Nana Akufo-Addo, said he hopes a formal cease-fire can be signed by the end of the week so that peace talks can begin in Ghana.

He made the comment after meeting with Liberian President Charles Taylor in Monrovia.

Representatives of two rebel groups, Liberia's government and several political parties are in Ghana waiting for the peace talks to begin in earnest. The start of the talks has been repeatedly delayed.

Ghana's foreign minister said he hopes to return to Ghana with Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea so he too can participate.

A rebel representative based in the United States, Bodioh Siapoe, said rebels will only ask for one thing at the talks, and that is for Mr. Taylor to step down. "Ghana is a joke because 75 percent of the people attending the conference in Ghana have been sent there by Charles Taylor, so you can see that you have got politicians in there who used to work in the Taylor government and still are. Some of whom are still his friends, who are in Ghana, are trying to make sure that Taylor's interests are protected. If they want peace in Liberia, they need to tell Taylor to just pack up and leave so that Liberians can have a new government," he said.

The rebels had previously set an ultimatum for Mr. Taylor to step down, but they did not say what would happen after the deadline.

Recent fighting in the four-year insurgency has taken place near Monrovia's city center, forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee. Most aid workers have also left because of the renewed offensive on the capital. But since Tuesday, rebels have retreated to positions outside the city.

Pressure on Mr. Taylor, who is a former rebel, is also coming from the international community.

A U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone is calling for all states, especially in those in west Africa, to turn over Mr. Taylor if he goes to their country.

The court indicted Mr. Taylor for war crimes last week while he was in Ghana for the opening ceremony of the peace talks, but Ghanaian authorities let him return to Liberia.

Mr. Taylor is accused of backing rebels in Sierra Leone, as well as Ivory Coast and Guinea. The chief prosecutor of the U.N.-backed court says the people of Sierra Leone and west Africa, including the thousands of war victims, demand that they have their day in court.