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Liberian Deal Could Come Monday, say Mediators - 2003-08-17

West African officials mediating Liberian peace talks in Ghana say the warring factions could sign a power-sharing accord as early as Monday. The announcement comes after Liberia's main rebel group retracted demands for the post of vice president in a planned transitional government, removing an obstacle to continuing peace talks in Ghana. A rebel official indicated the group would still seek the post of parliament speaker.

Kabineh Ja'neh, delegation leader for the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD, said the decision to retract the demand was made under pressure from regional mediators.

The peace talks underway in Accra are being mediated by the regional economic body ECOWAS. Earlier, ECOWAS had issued an ultimatum to the rebels to drop their demand for the key post of vice president, or see the negotiation process put off until September.

LURD had formerly maintained that its fighters would not be willing to give up their weapons, unless the group was given one of the top jobs in a new transitional government.

U.N. representative to Liberia Jacques Klein has also voiced his frustrations with the slow pace of developments at the talks. He said the ECOWAS head of negotiations, former Nigerian ruler Abdulsalami Abubakar, was being "too patient," and that those involved in the negotiations were "too comfortable."

On humanitarian issues, rebel and government representatives agreed to allow foreign aid into Liberia unhindered. All sides have promised aid-workers unlimited access, and offered guarantees for their safety.

Saturday, the World Food Program began distributing supplies, which included cornmeal, high energy biscuits, and milk for malnourished children.

But the security situation remains inadequate for many aid organizations, which say food supplies are still not reaching those who need them most.