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IN THE NEWS - June 14, 2003: Liberia Peace Talks - 2003-06-13

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, In the News.

Negotiators met for a second day Friday to discuss ways to end the conflict in Liberia. The talks restarted Thursday after West African negotiators received guarantees from the warring sides that they would stop fighting.

The negotiators have been meeting in Akosombo, Ghana, to agree on a permanent ceasefire. Mohamed Ibn Chambas has led the peace efforts. He told V-O-A that a ceasefire agreement would likely be signed on Saturday.

Two rebel groups are battling forces loyal to President Charles Taylor. The talks had been delayed since an opening ceremony on June fourth in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.

A rebel offensive in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, delayed the talks before they started. Then, a joint United Nations-Sierre Leone Court charged President Taylor with war crimes.

Mister Taylor will not take part in the talks directly. He says the peace talks will not succeed unless the United Nations removes war crimes charges against him.

The rebels say they are taking part in the talks in Ghana so they can demand Mister Taylor’s immediate resignation. The rebels have led a three-year campaign to oust the Liberian president. They had threatened to take Monrovia by force unless he resigned by this past Wednesday.

Mister Taylor has offered to resign for peace, under some conditions. These include his demand that the U-N drop the charges brought against him last week by the Special Court in Sierre Leone. Mister Taylor is charged with aiding rebels across the border in Sierra Leone’s ten-year-old civil war.

Mister Taylor was elected president of Liberia in nineteen-ninety-seven. He led his own rebellion eight years earlier. During that war, many peace deals were signed and broken. Mister Taylor now holds power with no real political opposition. But human rights groups have accused him of causing conflicts across West Africa.

Rebels of the main group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, and a group known as Mode control at least two-thirds of Liberia. But they have been unable to reach Monrovia’s center. Their offensive into the capital stopped Tuesday, but it has created a humanitarian crisis.

Most foreign aid workers have left Liberia. They say the fighting has displaced about one-hundred-thousand people. Refugees are gathered in shelters with little food or water. There are bodies in the streets and growing concern about the possible spread of the disease cholera. Liberia’s heath minister says as many as four-hundred people have died in the recent clashes between the rebels and the government.

Liberia was founded in the early eighteen-hundreds by freed American slaves. But years of civil war and dishonest governments have weakened the country. The United States has called on Liberia to establish a government of national unity and hold new elections.

This VOA Special English program, In the News, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.