Fri, Jul 18, 2003 - Page 7 News List

US peace plan for Liberia would exclude Taylor

AP , ACCRA, GHANA

A US-backed peace proposal for Liberia calls for creating an interim government next month that would exclude Liberian President Charles Taylor and the two rebel leaders seeking to oust him, negotiators said Wednesday in Ghana.

Senior Liberian government negotiator Lewis Brown said the proposal -- one of several under discussion at peace talks in Ghana -- was written by US government officials.

David Queen, a US Embassy spokesman for Ghana, confirmed an American proposal. He said several US officials attended the talks and were playing a facilitating role.

Negotiators from the Liberian government and the two main rebel groups, along with opposition parties and civic groups, are holding peace talks aimed at ending 14 years of intermittent fighting in Liberia that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Negotiators are hoping to clinch a deal within days, ahead of the promised arrival of peacekeeping troops. The talks in Ghana are being brokered by Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former Nigerian military ruler.

US President George W. Bush, who is considering a limited deployment of American troops to war-torn Liberia, has said that sending troops would depend on Taylor stepping down and leaving the country.

A three-page, unsigned draft peace proposal calls for an interim government to be inaugurated on Aug. 2 and for new elections to be held by October next year. The election would be open to all parties and a new government was expected by early 2005, the document said.

Brown said the Liberian government generally supports the proposal. But he noted that the Liberian constitution stipulates that if the president steps down for any reason, his vice president would serve the remaining portion of the presidential term, next January in this case.

Charles Benny, a leader of one of Liberia's main rebel movements, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD, rejected Brown's proposal that Vice President Moses Blah serve as president until early January, then hand over to a vice president to be chosen by negotiators at the Accra talks.

"[It is] completely unacceptable. We will never accept that," Benny said. "If we want to make sure there is a lasting peace we need something acceptable to all."

Benny said he believed LURD might consider allowing Blah to take over from Taylor as president, but only until any interim government stemming from the talks was established on Aug. 2.

Meanwhile, Kabineh Ja'Neh, another top LURD leader at the peace talks, said his group was still pushing for a guarantee that they would hold the office of vice president in an interim government.

Ja'Neh also said he expected the president would come either from warring parties or opposition parties.

"The key issues have been reduced to one or two points," Ja'Neh said.

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