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Blah Fails to Win Deal from Liberia Rebels - 2003-08-17

The new Liberian president, Moses Blah, has returned empty-handed from peace talks in Ghana. Meanwhile, more Nigerian peacekeepers have arrived in Monrovia to help with the humanitarian effort in the Liberian capital.

Mediators had hoped that President Blah would return from Accra with some kind of a peace deal made with rebel leaders. But the talks apparently failed when rebels increased their demands for key positions in a transition government.

The rebels want the important posts of vice-president and speaker. Without these positions of power, they say, their fighters will not be willing to lay down their weapons.

Mr. Blah, as vice president to his predecessor Charles Taylor, was selected by Mr. Taylor to serve out his term in office, which ends in October. Mediators had hoped to arrange a two-year transitional government to oversee elections and a return to peace and stability under United Nations supervision.

U.N. envoy to Liberia Jacques Klein warned participants in the Accra talks that they must take a fresh approach to the peace negotiations, if there is to be a breakthrough.

The new Liberian foreign minister, Lewis Brown, remains in Accra as the government representative at the continuing talks.

On Saturday, more Nigerian forces landed in Monrovia, bringing their numbers to 1,000. They are supported by nearly 200 U.S. Marines. The priority for the peacekeepers is to get humanitarian aid to the weary and hungry civilian population.

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

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

Outside the capital, Monrovia, there are reports of continued fighting between rebel and government forces, indicating that it will be some time yet before the relief operation can begin moving beyond the limits of the capital city.