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Liberians Appear Cautiously Optimisitic About Peace Deal - 2003-08-19

Liberians appear cautiously optimistic of a peaceful future following the signing of a peace deal between rebel and government representatives Monday in Ghana.

The news of a peace agreement that has secured a power-sharing deal between the two main rebel groups and the Liberian government is being met with cautious optimism in the capital, Monrovia. But the problem, says Liberian journalist Winston Monboe, is that people do not trust all sides to stick to the deal without continued international pressure.

"Given previous experiences people do not really think that this agreement is going to be sincerely implemented by those who sign it," he said. "But they think that with the West African peacekeepers and the United States, the parties can be made to live by the terms of the agreement.

The U.S. government says its Marines, currently supporting the West African peacekeepers in Liberia, will be withdrawn from the country by October 1.

Meanwhile, humanitarian aid is reaching the port at Monrovia, but little of the food supplies are reaching the people. Until the security situation is improved, food distribution may continue to be hampered.

According to Mr. Monboe, displaced Liberians who took shelter from the fighting in the capital will not be returning to their village homes until there is a peacekeeping presence.

"There are some isolated cases of harassment and intimidation from armed men on both sides, the government and the rebels," he said. "So people are not still comfortable. People are still in the displaced camps."

There are many challenges ahead for Liberia, which has been battered by 14 years of civil war. This once prosperous African nation is in economic ruin, and hungry Liberians are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

The country also is awash with guns, and many of the child soldiers that were forcibly brought to the front to fight have known nothing other than conflict.