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Peace Deal Struck in Liberia

Regime and rebels sign a power-sharing pact that gives primary authority to noncombatants.

August 19, 2003|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

TUBMANBURG, Liberia — Negotiators for the Liberian government and two rebel factions signed a power-sharing agreement Monday that aims to end 14 ruinous years of war and will put power in the hands of non-combatants as the country prepares for elections by 2005.

The agreement was signed in nearby Ghana, as Liberians struggled to put their lives, and their country, back together under the eyes of West African peacekeepers and about 200 U.S. Marines. Shops and some banks reopened in the capital, Monrovia. In contrast to the heavy fighting of recent weeks, few guns were visible on the streets. Special Liberian police were seen throughout the city.

The rebel groups and the government sealed the agreement by promising not to seek top executive posts in the interim government, leaving them in the hands of political parties that were not involved in the fighting. The rebel groups and the government will each get 12 seats in the new legislature. Forty other seats will go to unarmed political parties.

Rebel negotiators said they also had won a commitment to have the interim government review the powers of the presidency, which they regard as too great.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 20, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Liberia conflict -- A photo caption accompanying a front-page article Tuesday on the peacekeeping effort in Liberia identified U.S. troops as Marines. They were Navy SEALs.

The agreement came a week after warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor left the country for exile in Nigeria.

Taylor was accused of starting wars in Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone in addition to Liberia and has been indicted for alleged war crimes in Sierra Leone. His removal was seen as a key to stability in West Africa.

Rebel negotiators praised the agreement and said they expected peace to last.

"The peace agreement is very, very likely to hold," said Brig. Gen. Joe Wylie, a military advisor to the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD.

"Charles Taylor, who has been a contaminant factor ... in politics for the past 14 years, is out of the picture. There is no one in there who will be so invincible, so strong, so rich, so arrogant," he said.

Gen. Boi Bleaju Boi of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL, said the groups pledged to "never again take up arms against our brothers and sisters."

"It is about time we have peace in our country," he said.

President Bush pledged to end U.S. military involvement in Liberia by Oct. 1, the White House said Monday. American troops will be replaced by U.N. forces no later than that date, he added.

Bush made the comments in an interview with Armed Forces Radio and Television Service while he visited Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego County on Thursday, the day the Marines came ashore in Liberia. The White House released a transcript of the interview Monday.

Bush said the United States has a "special obligation in Liberia to help with humanitarian aid" but the intervention would be "of limited duration and limited scope."

"Their job is to help secure an airport and a port so food can be off-loaded and the delivery process begun to help people in Monrovia," Bush said. "We'll be out of there by Oct. 1. We've got U.N. blue-helmeted troops ready to replace our limited number of troops."

Navy SEALs dived to gauge the depth and suitability of a Monrovia harbor near the U.S. Embassy on Monday.

A World Vision relief ship sank off the coast of Sierra Leone. No deaths were reported, but the ship's supplies were lost.

The negotiators in Ghana said they would give relief agencies access to all of Liberia, and U.N. coordinator Ross Mountain said assessment teams were fanning out.

"Our expectation is that medical and public health needs are at the top of the list" in the most remote areas of the country, Mountain said.

News of the peace deal was slow to reach much of Liberia, where telephone service is scarce. In Tubmanburg, a LURD stronghold 50 miles north of Monrovia, fighters heard about the pact on the radio.

"We praying for peace, man," said an officer who is known as Gen. Dragon Master, the third-in-command of local troops. "ECOMIL is welcome to come here," he said, referring to West African peacekeepers. But he appeared annoyed by U.S. Harrier jets streaking through the sky.

"They should tell us when they going to come over our territory," he said, looking at the planes overhead.

The West African peacekeepers have set up checkpoints along the road to Tubmanburg and are enforcing an arms-free zone in the northern Monrovia district of Bushrod Island. LURD fighters piled their weapons near a bench before going into town.

The road to Tubmanburg is littered with trucks, some of them turned over on their sides, others sitting silent in the middle of the way. Many were taken during a looting spree that ended last week, and apparently their drivers didn't know how to shift the gears.

Tubmanburg itself is probably the best-stocked town in all of Liberia, flush with U.N. food looted from warehouses last week. The streets are clogged with stolen cars.

Although everything is for sale here, prices are prohibitively high -- $23 for a sack of rice, the Liberian staple.

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