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Liberian factions due to pick interim leader
( 2003-08-21 09:22) (Agencies)

Liberia's warring factions kept up discussions into Thursday to try to pick a leader to guide the war-ruined West African state out of a generation of strife and toward elections in two years.

Liberians buy food in a market in Monrovia August 20, 2003. Liberia's warring factions were due to sit down together on Wednesday to choose the leader of a two-year transition government meant to end 14 years of bloodshed and prepare for elections.   [Reuters]
Meeting in Ghana, the government delegation and two rebel groups have to agree on a name from a shortlist of three candidates drawn up by political parties and other interest groups to replace President Moses Blah in October.

Blah stepped in as a caretaker after pariah leader Charles Taylor flew into exile in Nigeria last week.

The choice is between former U.N. official and vigorous Taylor opponent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Rudolph Sherman who heads a coalition regarded as broadly sympathetic to Taylor, and Monrovia businessman Gyude Bryant of the Liberia Action Party.

Delegates said Bryant's chances were strengthened by the fact that the other two candidates are seen as more polarized, though all were tight-lipped on their own choice.

"We will keep an open mind. Whatever will end the war is what we are looking for," Foreign Minister Lewis Brown, heading the government negotiators, told Reuters.

After meeting together on Wednesday, the groups were discussing the issue separately before joining for a full session and a final decision.

West African mediators are desperate to end a crisis that has poisoned their region and said they had told delegates there was no time to go back to the bush to consult comrades as they had wanted.


The mediators aim to pick up Blah on Thursday 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.

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 U.S. Marines and aircraft.

But with some armed rebels still around, security is still a huge concern to aid agencies 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.

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