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US Applauds Liberian Push for Cease-fire Accord - 2003-06-17

The United States is welcoming the Liberian cease-fire accord and expressing hope that the deal which calls for the resignation of President Charles Taylor will lead to democracy in the west African state.

The Bush administration had strongly supported the push for peace in Liberia led by the west African economic grouping ECOWAS, and the United States, along with the European Union, Nigeria and Ghana signed the cease-fire agreement in the Ghanaian capital Accra as an observer.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker welcomed the accord and noted its requirement that President Taylor, whose tenure was marked by near constant conflict, is to leave office.

He said, "We applaud the cease-fire that was signed today between the Liberian government and the rebel groups, and we further applaud the goal of concluding an agreement within 30 days on an interim government that will not include the current president, Mr. Taylor. The Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, now will dispatch a join verification team and a joint monitoring committee to monitor the peace agreement, and build trust between the armed parties and prepare for any eventual international stabilization force."

Spokesman Reeker said negotiations will continue on the shape of a post-conflict government in Liberia, and said the United States is encouraging all the parties to promptly conclude an agreement that will bring true democracy and good governance to the long-suffering Liberian people.

Liberia has largely been mired in civil conflict since 1989 when Charles Taylor, then a local warlord, launched a seven-year rebellion against the government in Monrovia. He was elected president in 1997 but the country saw only two years of peace before the latest civil conflict began in 1999.

Mr. Taylor has been under U.N. sanctions as an instigator of conflict in neighboring states and earlier this month he was indicted by the U.N. backed Special Court for Sierra Leone for rebel atrocities in that country.

Under questioning spokesman Reeker said the U.S. goal is to see those responsible for atrocities in Sierra Leone held accountable, though he declined to say if the United States expected Mr. Taylor to surrender himself to the court after he leaves office.

The State Department had confirmed Monday that a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship with 2,000 Marines aboard, the Kearsarge, had been dispatched to Liberian coastal waters.

Officials said the ship was sent there for a possible evacuation of remaining U.S. citizens, though the move was seen in Liberia as putting added pressure on Mr. Taylor to conclude the truce accord and step aside.