Liberians head for peace talks

Mark Doyle, BBC West African correspondent
© BBC World Service

Displaced people fleeing fighting in northern Liberia
Renewed fighting has forced many to flee their homes

Representatives of the Liberian government and rebels have begun arriving in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, for their first direct peace talks since conflict flared up in northern Liberia last year.

Tens of thousands of Liberians have been made homeless by the unrest.

It involves government and rebel forces, but also just as significantly, indisciplined elements on both sides looting from civilians.

The talks, which formally begin on Thursday, are being organised by the West African regional grouping Ecowas.

'Dictatorial rule'

Ecowas executive secretary Mohammed Ibn Chambas told the BBC that a Liberian government envoy was already in Abuja, as was one of the Liberian government's main exiled opponents, Alhaji Kromah. President Charles Taylor

The talks are aimed at resolving not only the current military conflict, but wider security problems which have seen most of President Charles Taylor's opponents go into exile.

Mr Taylor says the rebellion in Liberia is an invasion by dissidents backed by neighbouring Guinea.

While there is evidence to back this position, the wider political conflict also involves Liberian politicians who oppose what they describe as Mr Taylor's dictatorial rule.

Talks like those scheduled in Abuja often encounter last-minute logistical or diplomatic snags.

In order to iron these out, the Ecowas executive secretary was due to fly on a plane to Liberia on Wednesday to gather the bulk of the participants himself.
Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 17:33 GMT

© Robert W. Kranz  2002