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Negotiators Say Liberia Could Have Transitional Government by August - 2003-07-17

Negotiators at Liberian peace talks say a U.S.-backed plan could establish a transitional government without President Charles Taylor in early August. The negotiations are taking place in Ghana, as Liberians await international peacekeepers to end 15 years of nearly continuous civil war.

Government and rebel negotiators say the U.S.-backed plan calls for the inauguration of a transitional government in early August and new elections by October.

The negotiators say the interim government would be set up without Mr. Taylor or the main leaders from two rebel groups who control most of Liberia but not the capital, Monrovia.

Rebels and President Bush, who is considering a limited deployment of American peacekeepers, have called for Mr. Taylor to leave Liberia immediately.

He was inaugurated for a six-year term in August 1997, eight years after launching his own rebellion. Since the early 1990s, the international community has accused Mr. Taylor of fueling instability throughout west Africa by smuggling weapons, diamonds and timber, charges he denies.

On Wednesday, speaking to refugees packed in a football stadium in Monrovia, Mr. Taylor again warned of chaos if the international community does not send international peacekeepers before he leaves power.

"I see trouble," he said. "I see murder, mayhem. I see rape. I see total destruction, so it is important for the international community to act and to act now to bring peacekeepers to Liberia, and bring them now."

Rebels and Liberian civilians have also called for the quick deployment of an international peacekeeping force, but an initial group of west African soldiers is not expected until the end of the month.

Fears are increasing that a cease-fire signed last month could collapse completely after reports of renewed fighting around Klay Junction, about 40 kilometers northwest of Monrovia.