Liberia ceasefire 'breached'

© BBC News Online

A ceasefire has begun in Liberia, bringing hope for a full peace agreement between government forces and rebels groups within 30 days. Militiamen ready to defend Charles Taylor

It came into force at midnight on Tuesday, following two weeks of talks in Ghana.

But rebels are already accusing soldiers loyal to President Charles Taylor of breaking the ceasefire and attacking their positions in the east of the country.

A spokesman for Model, Commander Boi Bleaju Boi, told AFP news agency he would order his forces to defend themselves.

The BBC's Paul Welsh in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, says there are likely to be many claims and counter-claims of ceasefire breaches over the coming days.

He says the next stage will be spent drawing up a map of which troops are where; one of the reasons why there have been battles in the last few days and why they may continue for a while after the ceasefire has officially begun.

Peace monitors are not expected to arrive in Liberia for at least three days and there is no timetable yet for the arrival of peacekeeping troops.

The West African mediator of the deal, Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, told the BBC he hoped the United States, Britain and France would join the peacekeeping mission.

Stepping down

Liberia's President Charles Taylor - indicted as a war crimes suspect - will have to step down under the peace accord while an interim administration takes over.

Charles Taylor

Stability in Liberia is vital to its neighbours, like Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, which have also found themselves caught up in the fighting in recent years.

President Taylor is blamed by many for much of the instability in the West African region and has been indicted for war crimes by a United Nations-backed tribunal in Sierra Leone.

Mr Taylor, has said he will only step down if the charges against him are dropped.

Defence Minister Daniel Chea signed the ceasefire accord on behalf of the government, while Kabineh Janet and Tia Slanger signed on behalf of the rebels, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The three men shook hands to cheers and applause from the delegates.

In Liberia, news of the cease-fire had residents running into the streets of the capital, Monrovia, to celebrate.

Cars, white rags tied to their antennas in symbols of peace, drove through roads honking. Shoppers burst into dancing at one roadside market.

The European Union urged President Taylor to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal, which announced his indictment on 4 June.

Monrovia

Meanwhile, Nigeria has begun to evacuate some 6,000 civilians from Monrovia. Ghana has already begun moving some 1,500 of its citizens back home.

Charles Taylor

Liberia's Government has urged the people of Monrovia to return to life as normal following last week's battle between the army and rebels.

The government is back in control of the capital and some shops and businesses have re-opened, but residents still fear a renewed rebel attack, our correspondent says.

Tens of thousands of people are still living rough in the city, afraid to return to their homes.

The schools the president wants re-opened are temporary homes to thousands of people.


Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK


added by: Robert W. Kranz  19-06-2003