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SLUG: 2-312051 Liberia Rebels (L-O)









INTRO: A breakaway faction of Liberia's main rebel group has said it has replaced the group's leader with his influential wife. As V-O-A's Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa bureau in Abidjan, the split within the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy is jeopardizing the scheduled disarmament of tens-of-thousands of former fighters.

TEXT: Rebel political leaders of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) say there is no truth in Monday's assertion by Aicha Keita Conneh that she is their new leader.

Mrs. Conneh is the estranged wife of Sekou Conneh, a former used-car salesman who became rebel leader during the four-year insurgency to oust former President Charles Taylor.

LURD's secretary-general Joe Gbala says Mrs. Conneh has been used by, what he says, are outsiders trying to divide the rebel group.

/// GBALA ACT ///

Sekou's wife is no factor in the operations of LURD. She is no factor, she is no factor in the operations of LURD. She is just trying to relegate family problems to organizational problems. She has been misled by some disgruntled recycled politicians, people that destroyed this country and still want to destroy this country. Nobody this time around has the capacity to create rift within our organization.

/// END ACT ///

But Mrs. Conneh, who returned from Guinea to Liberia last week, told reporters Monday she was taking control of LURD.

She said her husband has failed to keep the movement united. Mrs. Conneh also said she wanted to make sure there was complete disarmament so that Liberian rebels do not slip across borders to become mercenaries in neighboring countries.

Several-dozen LURD military leaders said earlier this month they recognized her, rather than Mr. Conneh, as their leader.

Known as a powerful behind-the-scenes operator, Mrs. Conneh is very close to Guinean President Lansana Conte, who was one of the main financial backers of LURD during their insurgency.

Meanwhile, Sekou Conneh, who has been living mostly in exile in recent years, returned to Monrovia on Monday and was greeted by a nearly 100-car convoy at the airport. He says he is back in Liberia to ensure the success of the disarmament process.

Thousands of U-N peacekeepers are continuing to deploy throughout the country for that process to begin next month. Disarmament of government fighters started in December, but has been hampered by wrangling over payment for arms and by logistical problems.

Nearly 15 years of continuous fighting between militias and rebel groups, which often split, ended in August when former president Charles Taylor fled to Nigeria. (SIGNED)


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