Liberia's warring factions sign peace deal

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The Liberian government and rebel forces signed a peace accord last night to end three years of fighting as President George Bush promised that an American peace-keeping force would be brought home by October.

The peace agreement, signed in Accra, Ghana, calls for a two-year power-sharing government that will work towards holding democratic elections. There were hopes that the deal would end the 14 years of bloody fighting that marked the rule of the ousted president, Charles Taylor.

The signing involved three different groups: the two rebel movements, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, with representatives of Liberia's post-Taylor government. Under the deal, all three have ceded any claims to senior posts in the interim government, yielding control to non-combatants.

The retired Nigerian general Abdulsalami Abubakar, chief mediator at the talks, said: "I want to believe that with the signing of this agreement today, Liberia will never be plunged into another spiral of violence in the quest for political power, or under the false pretence of liberating the people. Liberians do not need liberators any more. Liberians need developers and nation-builders."

Ghana's President, John Kufuor, was on hand for the agreement, which saw representatives of the United Nations, European Union and African Union sign as witnesses. The United States has had an influential delegation at the talks, and signed as witnesses, but said West Africa must take the lead in Liberia.

President Bush said 200 US Marines sent into Liberia last week as peace-keepers have a limited mission there and will be withdrawn by 1 October. "Their job is to help secure an airport and a port so food can be offloaded and the delivery process begun to help people in Monrovia," Mr Bush said in an interview published yesterday. "We've got UN blue-helmeted troops ready to replace our limited number of troops. We have a special obligation in Liberia to help with humanitarian aid. And, therefore, we will. And I said, secondly, we will have a limited mission, of limited duration and limited scope."

A West African peace- keeping force will ultimately number 3,250 troops.

The deal comes a week after the resignation of Mr Taylor, who flew into exile at the demand of rebels, West African leaders and the United States.