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Liberia's LURD Rebels Trying To Prevent Split In Ranks - 2004-01-09

Leaders of Liberia's main rebel group say they are trying to patch up their differences to prevent a split within their ranks. The rift could endanger the country's disarmament process.

Senior members of the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) are rejecting demands by a splinter group of 30 military commanders to remove their leader, Sekou Conneh.

The dissident group of commanders issued a statement saying Mr. Conneh had been replaced as LURD's leader by his estranged wife, Aicha Keita.

But on Thursday, other LURD officials gathered in Monrovia said there had been no such change.

LURD political spokesman Isaac Nyenabo is also comptroller general in Liberia's power-sharing government, set up to end nearly 15-years of civil war.

"I assure that there are some frustrated elements within our midst that designed such plans, and those frustrated enemies, their own intention is to derail the entire peace process. We will not sit down and allow them to derail the process. We are in the process of dealing with that, and we want the international community to know precisely that the issue will be dealt with."

The dispute among LURD leaders is raising concern about the planned disarmament of rebel fighters.

The dissident rebel commanders have accused Mr. Conneh of betraying LURD by receiving money when making his Cabinet selections to represent the rebel movement in the power-sharing government. They have also been angered by several of his appointments, including that of a businessman, Lusinee Kamara, who is a rival of Mr. Conneh's wife.

Mr. Conneh has lived mostly in Guinea in recent years, but is now in Senegal. He has remained outside Liberia, even though the war ended in August with the departure to Nigeria of former President Charles Taylor.

Speaking to V-O-A on Friday, Mr. Conneh denied receiving any money for the Cabinet choices he made. He also denies he has problems with his wife.

"They were just using my wife's name to undermine the peace process, but my wife is not part of those things. She's communicating with me, and there's no problem. They were just a few people claiming to be the military high command, and they are on the run. But the military high command is in full control, and they are communicating with me that the situation is under control."

One of the new members of Liberia's Finance Ministry and a LURD political advisor, Charles Bennie, says the rebel group needs to mature for the sake of peace in Liberia.

"We have to learn to accept that there will be times where will be some ups and downs, and this is just one of them. There is nothing wrong with people who have grievances trying to have them known to the public, or to those concerned. But the way it was done was wrong."

He says the dissenting commanders should be given a warning, suspended or even expelled from LURD. He says a committee has been established to determine how to handle their case.

The friction within LURD comes as more than eight-thousand United Nations peacekeepers continue to deploy throughout Liberia to set up disarmament sites.

Tens-of-thousands of former fighters remain armed, and there are reports of small-scale fighting and looting going on in several remote areas.