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Interim Liberia Officials Deny Charges of Past Abuses - 2003-10-21

The election of a former rebel leader as parliamentary speaker in Liberia has paved the way for the formation of an interim power-sharing peace government. There are concerns that many of the officials in the interim phase have tainted pasts.

After being elected assembly speaker, George Dweh said he would promote national healing. He also denied accusations that he was a war criminal.

"Why is it that I am not so far indicted?" said Mr. Dweh. "If you have a problem that George Dweh did X, Y, Z during the civil war, go to court to prove your case if you have a problem. I personally, I know my conscience is clear, I have not even killed a fly before."

Mr. Dweh had been a rebel leader since the early 1990s. There have been several protests by relatives of people he allegedly helped kill.

The transitional parliament is to approve cabinet positions in the interim government led by its chairman, Gyude Bryant. All those serving in this government will be barred from competing in the scheduled 2005 elections.

Former defense minister Daniel Chea, who has been asked to serve in the same post, says he has been hesitant to accept because of what he calls future political aspirations. But he also says he has a moral obligation to use his influence and ensure Liberia does not return to war.

"It is a critical period that we all need to come in and help," Mr. Chea said. "We must disarm. This country must disarm. We must do everything to take the guns from the hands of everyone who is in possession of guns in this country. It is the only way that Liberia will have a future. Our country has been flipped upside down, and we have a moral responsibility to ensure that we reverse that trend."

Mr. Chea has also faced protests by government fighters who say they are owed money.

Other nominees for top positions in the new government include two younger brothers of former President Samuel Doe, the army sergeant who came to power in a 1980 coup.

The U.N. mission in Liberia has called for members of the new government to be individuals of high moral character and integrity.

Thousands of U.N. peacekeepers are helping implement the August power-sharing peace agreement, which was signed by Liberia's three armed factions and 18 political parties.

Advances by two rebel groups led to the departure of former president Charles Taylor, now in exile in Nigeria and under the threat of arrest, following his indictment for war crimes by a U.N.-backed court.