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LIBERIA: Divided rebels appeal for ceasefire, fighting rages on

ACCRA, 25 July 2003 (IRIN) - A senior representative of the Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group attending peace talks in Ghana urged LURD fighters on Friday to stop their week-long battle with government forces for control of the capital Monrovia and cease fire immediately.

Kabineh Jan'eh, the leader of the LURD delegation to the stalled peace talks, told reporters: "Our forces are to cease all hostilities immediately. Taylor should also take a similar position and stop his forces from attacking our positions. LURD is calling for this ceasefire because of the carnage and suffering that is being visited on Monrovia and its residents,"

However, Jan'eh's authority to continue speaking on behalf of the rebel movement was immediately contested by a senior colleague and fighting continued throughout the day in the beleaugered city of one million people.

LURD defended its hold of Bushrod island, where the deep water port is situated, fending off repeated attempts by government forces to cross key bridges linking the island to the city centre and the northeastern suburbs of Monrovia.

Shortly after Jan'eh's call for a cessation of hostilities, LURD political adviser Charles Bennie called a separate news conference in Accra to announce that Jan'eh had been sacked as the leader of the LURD delegation to the peace talks and no longer spoke authoritatively on behalf of the rebel movement.

"As far as I am aware, Kabineh Jan'eh has been withdrawn as Leader of the LURD delegation as well as George Dweh. I have confirmed this with our Chairman Sekou Konneh and soon a new leadership for the Accra talks will be announced," Bennie told reporters at a separate news conference.

Bennie accused some of his LURD colleagues of "hijacking the peace process for their own means and purposes."

Diplomats suggested that there was either a serious split in the leadership of the rebel movement or Jan'eh's call for a ceasefire was little more than a cynical public relations ploy designed to deflect international criticism of LURD for its continued attempts to seize Monrovia.

Jan'eh called on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL) and the United States of America to immediately deploy peacekeepers into Monrovia as soon as possible to enforce a ceasefire.

"LURD is prepared to release the Freeport Harbour to ECOWAS for the deployment of the peacekeeping force as well as for the influx of humanitarian aid into the country," he said.

His remarks indicated that LURD had dropped its initial demand that President Charles Taylor should step down and leave the country before peacekeepers enter Liberia. Taylor has said he would only depart for exile in Nigeria once the first peacekeepers arrive.

Two batallions of Nigerian troops are standing by to lead a 1,500 strong vanguard of a multinational intervention force into Monrovia as soon as they are given the green light from ECOWAS to move in. Washington has also placed US forces on stand by for a possible intervention.

For the past two months ECOWAS has been brokering peace talks between the government, LURD and another rebel group , the Movement for Democracy In Liberia (MODEL), in Ghana. It persuaded all three warring parties to sign a ceasefire agreement on June 17, but this has been repeatedly violated by all sides.

Jan'eh rejected suggestions that the LURD delegation in Accra was not in control over its fighters on the ground. "We have been in contact and regular contact with our leadership in Northern Liberia. We have entered Monrovia twice. If we had not been in control of our forces, the fighting would not have stopped. The problem is that Taylor always attacks us and that is what causes the fighting to escalate," he said.

Last month's ceasefire agreement signed at a time when LURD forces were still 40 km away from Monrovia, but Jan'eh told IRIN that LURD would maintain its control of Bushrod Island and Monrovia's strategic Freeport in the event of a fresh truce. Rebel fighters would not withdraw from the city completely as the did after their previous assault on the capital.

"If we leave, there is no guarantee that Taylor will not unleash his special forces on civilians for allegedly supporting us as he has done repeatedly," Jan'eh said. Let the peacekeepers enter Monrovia today. We are prepared to assist them to have full control of the city."

Asked to comment on Bennie's statement that he had been sacked as leader of the LURD delegation to the peace talks Jan'eh told IRIN that he was not aware of any such move.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance




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