New Liberian ceasefire appeal

© BBC News Online

The chief mediator in Liberian peace talks has appealed to the rival parties to sign a ceasefire agreement before trying to resolve political differences. Militiamen ready to defend Charles Taylor

Mohamed Ibn Chambas said there were many political parties and other "stakeholders" entitled to a say in the country's next move.

"The political future of Liberia should not be determined only by those factions which are armed, but by all Liberians," Mr Chambas told the BBC.

His appeal at the talks in Ghana came after the Liberian rebels repeated their demand that President Charles Taylor should step down as a precondition for signing the agreement to end four years of fighting.

Charles Taylor

"Mr Taylor must leave office before we sign any formal ceasefire agreement. I want to make that emphatically clear," said Kabineh Ja'neh from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

But the Liberian Government has rejected the demand.

Information minister Reginald Goodrich told the BBC that the removal of Mr Taylor's government by what he called unconstitutional means would lead to chaos in the country.

He said President Taylor had already declared that he would not seek re-election and had instructed his representatives at the talks to sign the agreement.

The Liberian capital, Monrovia, is currently surrounded by rebels and there have been reports of explosions on the outskirts of the city.

Charles Taylor

Eugene Wilson of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model) - a new rebel group to have emerged in southern Liberia - has also demanded Mr Taylor's resignation.

"We want the United States or the western powers to lead a stabilisation force into Liberia before that," he added.

The Liberian government says as many as 400 people have died in fighting for Monrovia, and many more were wounded after rebels launched a major offensive last week.

The United States has diverted a warship taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom to help with a possible evacuation of Americans from Liberia.

French special forces have already airlifted hundreds of foreigners to safety.

The United Nations-backed war crimes court investigating the brutal 10-year civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone insists Mr Taylor must still be arrested.

He is accused of backing Revolutionary United Front rebels in the war, during which many thousands of people had their arms or legs hacked off with machetes.

But Mr Taylor warned on Thursday that there would be no peace in Liberia unless his indictment was lifted.

Sunday, 15 June, 2003, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK

added by: Robert W. Kranz  19-06-2003