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Mediators Seek Ceasefire In Liberia - 2003-06-12

West African mediators are trying to get warring sides in Liberia to sign a formal cease-fire, to improve the atmosphere for peace talks in Ghana.

The mediators say the cease-fire is absolutely necessary for the peace talks in Ghana to be a success.

Wednesday in Liberia, the mediators received assurances from rebels and the government that they would stop fighting, so the peace talks can begin in earnest. Now, the mediators are trying to get a formal cease-fire signed by the end of the week in Ghana by envoys of the warring parties.

Two rebel groups control more than two-thirds of Liberia, but they have been unable to reach Monrovia's center. Their offensive on the capital stopped Tuesday, but it created a humanitarian catastrophe. Foreign aid workers, most of whom have left Liberia, say the fighting displaced about one-million people.

Mr. Taylor also faces external pressure. He is under U-N sanction for supporting rebels in other west African countries. Last week, he was indicted for war crimes by a U-N backed court in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Taylor took power after winning elections in 1997, eight years after launching his own rebellion. During that war, more than a dozen peace deals were signed and broken. Rebels now say they will only take part in the talks in Ghana, so they can demand Mr. Taylor's immediate resignation.

Stephen Ellis, author of The Mask of Anarchy, a book about the Liberian war during the 1990s, says, even if Mr. Taylor leaves power, it will not mean peace for Liberia.

He says, "I really think that Charles Taylor now can not escape from the situation he is in. I think we will see an end to the rule of Charles Taylor in Liberia in the very near future. Now, unfortunately, that is not going to bring in itself peace or stability to either Liberia or west Africa. Unless there is a major international intervention, in which the United States will have to play a leadership role, I am afraid there is going to be continued instability in Liberia and the region. I must say that, at the moment, I can see no signs of the U-S being prepared to make that sort of effort."

The State Department has called for the establishment of a government of national unity and new elections.

Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century as a haven of liberty, but it has been thrown into chaos by years of civil war. The current insurgency started in 1999.