Liberia Still Hoping for Peace

Archbishop of Monrovia Asks International Aid to Rebuild the Country

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MONROVIA, Liberia, JUNE 15, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Liberia is starting to see a glimmer of hope.

«Now the peace talks held in Akosombo can really begin,» Archbishop Michael Francis of Monrovia told the Misna missionary agency, after a cease-fire was declared Thursday by Liberian President Charles Taylor.

A cease-fire pact was expected to be signed over the weekend, but the rebels, in an about-turn, said they would only sign on if Taylor resigned. Some mediators hold out hope for a signing on Monday.

All sides of the Liberian crisis have been invited to attend a negotiation session in Akosombo, Ghana, organized by the Economic Community of West African States.

Representatives of the government are participating, as are members of two rebel groups: the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). Political parties, civil groups and religious representatives are also joining in.

«The people place many hopes in the Akosombo talks,» Archbishop Francis said. «All the leaders of Liberia are in Ghana and they are the ones that will have to decide the countries future. We hope that the talks will have a positive and successful outcome and that a solution for the crisis is found.»

The truce declared by President Taylor follows a cease-fire announced days earlier by LURD rebels for humanitarian reasons, following talks with the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio.

«Now more than ever, there is the need of aid of the international community and the deployment of a peace force engaged in seeing that the truce is respected,» Archbishop Francis added.

In the past few months, LURD and MODEL rebels launched a vast offensive against the Taylor government, which led them into the capital Monrovia in a matter of a few days. LURD rebels and MODEL now control at least 60% of the impoverished country of 3.2 million.

Taylor insisted that there would be no peace in Liberia until the accusations against him are lift. A special war tribunal in Sierra Leone issued an arrest warrant for the Liberian president, accusing him of war crimes.

The court indicted him recently on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his backing of rebels who committed atrocities during Sierra Leone’s 1991-2001 civil war.

«These accusations are to be removed and I do not care how they will succeed, but they must do it,» Taylor said.

The Liberian president said the international community must remove the stigma of indictment from him, if efforts to bring peace to the country were to succeed.

«It is racist, politically motivated, and aimed at disgracing an African leader … Washington, London did it. They can help to fix it,» he said. «It is not about Taylor, it is about the question if Africa can be free.»

Sierra Leone’s Special Court published its indictment against Taylor on June 4 and sent a warrant for his arrest to Ghana, where he was attending the formal opening of peace talks with Liberian rebels. But the Ghanaian government ignored the request to detain him and allowed him to leave for Monrovia unhindered.

The indictment and a rebel push into the outskirts of Monrovia, however, stalled the peace talks in their tracks, but they resumed on Thursday after all sides agreed in principle to a cease-fire and rebel forces withdrew from the capital.

Meanwhile the humanitarian situation in the Liberian capital worsens by the day. More than 100,000 refugees are in Monrovia, and food is in short supply.

«We ask the international community to deliver aid,» said Liberian Health Minister Peter Coleman. «We can only hold out for a few more days under these conditions.»

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