Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Liberian rebel groups choose interim leader to guide country out of chaos


Delegates from all Liberia's warring factions said yesterday they had picked Gyude Bryant to guide the war-ruined West African state out of a generation of strife and towards elections in two years.

Bryant is a Monrovia businessman and widely seen as the most politically neutral of three candidates who were shortlisted. Delegates from rebel factions and the government said West African mediators would announce his appointment later.

They said Bryant, 54, had been picked after two rounds of voting on a second day of talks in Ghana.

"He was the one that was least offensive to either side," one of the delegates said.

Liberia's interim leader is due to take over in October from President Moses Blah, who has been acting as a caretaker since pariah leader Charles Taylor flew into exile in Nigeria last week under heavy international pressure.

The aim of the interim government is to put an end to nearly 14 years of strife and then organize elections in 2005.

Bryant, of the Liberia Action Party, is regarded as a canny politician capable of building consensus. He is a leading figure in the Episcopal Church, one of Liberia's main religious denominations.

Other candidates for interim leader were former UN official and vigorous Taylor opponent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Rudolph Sherman, who heads a coalition of parties regarded as broadly sympathetic to Taylor.

Bryant said he was unaware that he had been chosen.

"The hopes of the Liberian people are so high and their expectations are awesome," he said.

Liberians have been battered by nearly 14 years of non-stop war that have wrecked one of the region's better-off countries and turned it into a nest of drugged-up young gunmen with no qualms about murder, rape and pillage.

Taylor's departure paved the way for rebels of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) to hand over control of parts of Liberia's capital Monrovia to a regional peacekeeping force backed by US Marines and aircraft.

But with some armed rebels still around, security is still a huge concern to aid agencies that are desperately trying to get emergency supplies in through the devastated port to help hundreds of thousands of people left destitute by the war.

The new government will share power between political parties, the outgoing administration and the two rebel groups who control more than two-thirds of Liberia.

Hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes and 2,000 killed in the most recent spell of bloodletting to seize a country where a civil war killed 200,000 in the 1990s.

Taylor emerged as the strongest warlord from that fighting and was elected president in 1997. But his civil war foes soon took up arms against him.

The mediators aimed to pick up Blah yesterday and then take him on a regional tour to try to seal the peace process, going first to countries accused of backing the rebels -- Ivory Coast, Guinea and Sierra Leone -- then to regional power Nigeria.

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