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SLUG: 2-304354 Liberia / Talks (L-O)









INTRO: Liberian rebels attending peace talks in Ghana say they will not sign a cease-fire unless President Charles Taylor steps down. V-O-A's Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa bureau.

TEXT: Liberian rebels say a new transitional government must first be put in place for them to formally sign a cease-fire document.

Envoys for two rebel groups at the talks in Ghana also say Mr. Taylor must give assurances he will leave power immediately, or else they won't sign.

Mr. Taylor, who now controls only the capital Monrovia, has said he is willing to step down next year when his elected term expires, if his security is guaranteed.

Earlier Saturday, mediators from the Economic Community of West African states -- ECOWAS -- said they were confident they would be able to quickly get the warring sides to sign a cease-fire.

A U-S-based spokesman for the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, Bodioh Siapoe, says he is skeptical about the talks being held in Ghana. He says Ghanaian authorities should have arrested Mr. Taylor when he made a brief appearance there for the opening of the peace talks on June fourth. He had just been indicted for war crimes by a United Nations backed court in Sierra Leone.

/// SIAPOE ACT ///

I was disappointed that they were aware of the entire process but decided not to hold him hostage right there in Ghana, but then again Taylor has some friends in the Ghanaian government. We also know he has some very good friends in ECOWAS that will do everything in his interest.

/// END ACT ///

The most recent rebel offensive on Monrovia stopped Tuesday. Tens of thousands of residents in the city who fled the offensive have sought shelter in sports stadiums and in schools, waiting for relief supplies.

Liberian authorities say up to 400 people were killed in the rebel offensive.

A U-S amphibious assault ship is positioning itself in waters near Liberia in case it is needed to evacuate the few Americans remaining at the American embassy in Monrovia.

Mr. Taylor won elections in 1997, eight years after launching his own rebellion. He has been accused of fueling instability throughout West Africa by trading weapons for diamonds and timber -- a charge he denies.

Liberia was founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves as a haven of liberty. (SIGNED)


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