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New Cease-Fire Called in Liberia

Rebels declare second truce in 10 days after being repelled from the capital by forces loyal to the president. The battle left hundreds dead.

June 28, 2003|From Reuters

MONROVIA, Liberia — Liberian rebels declared their second cease-fire in 10 days Friday as they were forced back from the capital by troops loyal to President Charles Taylor.

This week's battle for Monrovia left hundreds dead and turned up the heat on former warlord Taylor, whom President Bush urged Thursday to step down and end a war that has spread turmoil across West Africa.

Thousands of people thronged the streets of the coastal city after the cease-fire was announced.

"We want peace, no more war," they chanted to Taylor, who drove by at the wheel of his black jeep giving a V sign, which in Liberia stands for peace as well as victory.

Rebels retreated from the port area after a last overnight push and were forced beyond the city limits for the second time in two days.

Here and there the dead lay unburied.

Just how close the rebels came was evident from the carpets of bullets and spent ammunition casings at both ends of the bridge at the edge of the city center.

Rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy said in a statement that its cease-fire would allow aid to reach civilians and "avoid a grotesque humanitarian catastrophe."

Recent days have witnessed the heaviest fighting in Monrovia since the 1990s. Government officials said they were pleased with the cease-fire announcement.

"We hope the cease-fire will hold. My desire is for peace to come. People are dying and people are suffering," said a Taylor commander who gave his name as "Gen. Desert Fox."

The rebels have been under foreign pressure to stop fighting or risk losing credibility in their war against Taylor, who is under United Nations sanctions and wanted by an international court for alleged war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Peace talks to end 14 years of war were adjourned for a week in Ghana because of the fighting, but a West African mediator said Friday that rebel and government delegates had vowed to respect the fledgling truce.

"We need a cease-fire. We need this process back on track," Taylor told Liberians in a national address.

"As for the government, we are going to do our part to make sure that the bargain is followed," he said.

Fears of a bloodbath in Monrovia have drawn fresh calls for U.S. intervention in a country founded in 1822 by freed American slaves, but officials in Washington said there was no plan to send a peacekeeping force.

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