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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

LIBERIA: Peace talks close to agreement on ceasefire

AKOSOMBO, GHANA, 13 June 2003 (IRIN) - The Liberian government and rebels continued discussing a cease-fire at peace talks in Ghana on Friday amid hopes they could sign an agreement by the end of this week.

Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), who is helping to broker the talks at Akosombo, 100 km north of the Ghanaian capital Accra, said discussions would continue over the weekend if there were no agreement signed by Friday night.

"The parties are reviewing the draft agreement and are making their amendments. The business as usual today will be to discuss these changes and compromises as they come around. I am not too sure if we shall have a final agreement by the end of today. However, should that be the case, we shall have to continue our deliberations over the weekend," Chambas told IRIN.

His cautious optimism was shared by Kabineh Jan'eh, spokesman for the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group, whose forces have now pulled back from the western outskirts of Monrovia following an assault on the capital last week.

"From the discussions that we are having here, there are hopeful indicators that we shall reach a permanent cease-fire possibly today," Jan'eh said.

Sources close to the discussions said one thorny was issue was a proposal that independent observers should mark out the current fixed positions of all the warring factions before an international peacekeeping group is sent to monitor the ceasefire agreement.

The peace talks resumed on Thursday after being stalled for a week by LURD's push into Monrovia and the indictment of President Charles Taylor by a war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone. Progress was also hampered by the absence of a delegation from the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), a second rebel movement which controls most of the southeast of the country.

However, MODEL representatives arrived in Ghana earlier this week to join the discussions after pressure from the international community to come to the negotiating table.

MODEL spokesman Eugene Wilson said on Friday that his movement remained committed to the peace process even though MODEL forces in southeastern Liberia were still being attacked by the government.

"The needs of Liberians are bigger than everyone especially Taylor. We will stay here in Akosombo and continue to follow the protocol of the peace-talks," he said. "Taylor's soldiers have attacked our bases in Maryland, Sinoe and Grand Gedeh counties in Southeastern Liberia. We will not be pre-emptive. We will wait for instructions from our Chairman on how to defend our bases, but in the meantime we will continue to be committed to the peace process here in Akosombo," he added.

A potential stumbling block in the peace talks is the rebel demand that Taylor step down immediately as president, to make way for an interim administration that would organise fresh elections. The Liberian leader insisted on Thursday that he should stay in power until January and until he received guarantees of immunity from prosecution in other countries.

"We remain fixed to our statements that we will not talk to Taylor or any of his representatives," Jan'eh, the LURD spokesman said." We will however continue to interact with all Liberian Stakeholders or groups here at Akosombo for the best possible way of achieving peace for our country," he added.

The government delegation at the peace talks is led by Defence Minister, Daniel Chea. Meanwhile, the situation in Monrovia remained calm for the third day running. Many people who had fled their homes on the outskirts of the city as the rebels advanced last week drifted back cautiously to see whether their houses had been damaged or looted in the fighting.

In Ghana, foreign ministry officials said airforce planes had began evacuating Ghanaian nationals from Monrovia and a naval ship was on its way there. They said the flights would concentrate on bringing out women, children and elderly, while the ship would evacuate several hundred Ghanaians sheltering at the country's embassy in Monrovia.

Earlier this week, a French warship evacuated 535 foreign nationals from the beleaguered city, mainly Europeans, Americans and Ivorians.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict



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