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Liberian Rebels Reject Charles Taylor's Plan to Hand Over Power to Vice President Blah

The leaders of Liberia's main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy or LURD, say fighting could resume in the capital, Monrovia, if Liberian President Charles Taylor's vice president is installed as the next leader on Monday.

As President Taylor prepares to step down from office and leave the country as demanded by the rebels, another political crisis is threatening to break the shaky cease-fire that has been in place for the past several days.

In the rebel-controlled territory of Bush Road Island, LURD's self-described minister of internal affairs, Sekoh Fofana, told VOA that the rebels reject President Taylor's plan to hand over power next week to his vice president, Moses Blah.

"The fighting men on the ground will not accept General Blah. He was a general in the army. We will not replace one commando with another commando," he said. "We will not replace a criminal with another criminal."

Mr. Blah is a former guerrilla fighter who fought alongside Charles Taylor when he launched his insurgency in 1989 against then-President Samuel Doe. Mr. Taylor was elected president in 1997, but rebels have fought to topple him for the past three years.

In June in Monrovia, LURD fighters launched a series of offensives. The two-month-long war between government and rebel forces killed nearly two thousand people and have left hundreds of thousands of others displaced and homeless.

West African peacekeepers, led by Nigeria, are now in the capital trying to enforce a cease-fire and open up a corridor between the government-held downtown area and the rebel-held shipping port, for humanitarian aid to get through.

On Friday, the commander of Liberia's armed forces, General Benjamin Yetan said Mr. Taylor has ordered government soldiers to put down their weapons for good and to cooperate with the peacekeepers. "I think there will be no shooting on the part of the government at all," he said.

But rebel officials insist there can be no peace until a leader with no previous ties to Mr. Taylor is found to reside over an interim government.

Late Friday, U.S. embassy officials and more than a dozen West African peacekeepers traveled to Bush Road Island to deliver a message to the rebel military leader, General Seyeh Sheriff.

The contents of the message is not known. But U.S. and West African leaders are eager to avoid another bloody showdown that could derail efforts to stabilize the country and ease the suffering of thousands of people.