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Liberian Rebels, Government Sign Cease-Fire; Pressure Mounts on Taylor - 2003-06-17


Representatives of Liberia's government and two rebel groups have signed a cease-fire deal to end an insurgency that began in 1999. The deal could pave the way for a transitional government without President Charles Taylor, who has been in power since 1997.

The cease-fire was signed in Ghana by leaders from the two rebel groups, which control most of Liberia, and Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea.

A West African mediator said negotiations are to be be held in Ghana to establish a transitional government within 30 days, without Mr. Taylor. Efforts are also being made for the possible deployment of a West African-led peacekeeping force with U.S. assistance.

Liberian-rebel leaders had said they would not sign a cease-fire agreement if provisions were not made for Mr. Taylor to step down.

There was no immediate reaction from Mr. Taylor, who has been accused of fueling instability throughout West Africa by supporting rebel groups and trading in smuggled goods. Mr. Taylor remains in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, where pro-government forces recently pushed back the latest rebel offensive.

The State Department has called for a transitional government and new elections in Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century.

A U.S. amphibious assault ship with more than 2,000 Marines on board is positioning itself off the Liberian coast, officially for the possible evacuation of remaining U.S. citizens in Monrovia.

Many Liberian citizens have called for U.S. intervention to end the Liberian civil war, and say the arrival of the ship is putting added pressure on Mr. Taylor.

Liberia expert Stephen Ellis, said this could well be the end of Mr. Taylor's political career. "I think behind a lot of this lies the fact that the U.S. government, or at least bits of it, have decided they now want to see an end to Charles Taylor's political life. This is the first time that has been the case," he said.

Mr. Taylor has previously said he will step down only when his elected term expires in January.

He has also asked a U.N.-backed court to lift an indictment against him for war crimes and his support of rebels in Sierra Leone. The indictment was issued earlier this month in Freetown.