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Liberian Interim Leader Appeals for Reconciliation - 2003-08-24

The man who will lead Liberia's transitional government says Liberians should be ready to reconcile and heal the wounds created by decades of violence. James Butty takes a look at Gyude Bryant, chairman-elect of Liberia's transitional government.

The 54-year-old Bryant is a businessman and chairman of the Liberia Action Party. He is also a family man with strong ties to his Episcopal Church. Mr. Bryant will take over October 14 when President Moses Blah steps down. Mr. Blah was selected by Charles Taylor to serve out his term in office after Mr. Taylor was forced into exile in Nigeria. down.

According to the peace agreement signed in Accra, Ghana, Mr. Bryant will steer the country for two years until democratic elections in 2005. He says he's humbled to be chosen by his fellow Liberians.

"You know the one thing you cannot afford to happen is to loose sight of where you come from," he said. "We've got an awesome task ahead of us. So we've got to keep sober and keep a steady head so we can go home with everybody and start making changes."

Mr. Bryant will take over a country that has been traumatized by 14 years of conflict and with enormous social, political, and economic problems.

"The sentiments of the Liberian people are very high; their hopes are very high. We will try not to let them lose hope," he said. "There are many areas of priority. Just the basic social problems clean water, basic health care, food for the children, insuring safety and protection for all the people."

Thomas Nimely is leader of the rebel group Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL. His movement chaired the three-group panel that elected Mr. Bryant in Ghana. He says he was impressed by Mr. Bryant's background.

"We were looking for somebody who would father the nation, somebody who would heal our wounds as Liberians; someone who will give ears to people who have complaints and not just be judgmental," said Mr. Nimely. "And I think Gyude Bryant came up among the three persons as one of those who we could use as a symbol of change."

Liberian information minister Reginald Goodridge says his government is also pleased with the selection of Mr. Bryant as chairman of the interim government.

"He is unfettered by all of the conflicts over the past few decades," said Mr. Goodridge. "He has not been known to be involved with any types of problems that have contributed to the conflicts over the years."

After many years of horrific crimes and oppression by successive administrations and rebel groups, some Liberians would like to see some form of justice during the transitional period. But Bryant says by-gones should be by-gones.

"You cannot want to reconcile and heal Liberia if at the same time you want to be punitive about acts committed over the years of conflict," he said.

Mr. Bryant has a degree in economics from Liberia's Cuttington University College. After graduating in 1972, he worked briefly for the National Port Authority of Liberia and the Mesurado Group of Companies. In 1977, he founded the Liberia Machinery and Supply Company, distributing mining and port-handling equipment to some of Liberia's largest corporations.

He is a founding member of the Liberia Action Party, widely believed to have won the 1985 presidential election, which were rigged by President Samuel Doe. In 1992, Bryant was elected chairman of the LAP.

While Liberians generally are pleased with the selection of Mr. Bryant as their unifying interim leader, most agree that the task of nation building would require the active participation of every Liberian.