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Businessman chosen as Liberia's leader
( 2003-08-22 11:04) (Agencies)

Liberia's combatants on Thursday chose a longtime campaigner against rule by warlords to lead the country's post-war interim government.

The announcement of the selection of Gyude Bryant, a businessman seen as a consensus builder, came at the close of 78 days of tumultuous peace talks in Accra, Ghana.

Graphic profiles Liberia's new postwar leader Gyude Bryant.   [AP]

The top U.N. envoy for Liberia, meanwhile, said he would ask the Security Council for 15,000 troops to secure the peace, which would make it the largest anywhere in the world. The world body has already approved a force, but not its final size.

Speaking in Monrovia, U.N. envoy Jacques Klein, an American, also said he had asked the United States to keep some of its troops here to help train a new army for Liberia despite President Bush's commitment to pulling out a roughly 200-strong U.S. deployment by Oct. 1.

"We are hoping the U.S. will take it on," Klein told The Associated Press.

An 11-member U.N. assessment team arrived in Monrovia, charged with briefing the Security Council before it determines the scope and mission of the already-approved U.N. peace force.

Two rebel movements and the government signed a peace accord Monday, ending the latest in 14 years of militia rivalries that bloodied and ruined Liberia, once sub-Saharan Africa's richest nation.

The accord followed Charles Taylor's Aug. 11 resignation and flight into exile under pressure from fellow West African leaders, the United States and rebels laying siege to his capital.

In Accra, the West African mediator for 2 1/2 months of talks sent the combatants home Thursday with an admonishment to keep the peace and a plea for all Liberians to support it.

"You have to play your part," mediator Abdulsalami Abubakar, a retired Nigerian general, said after delegates finished their deliberations before dawn. "Your country has bled for quite some time now."

Under Monday's peace accord, Bryant (whose first name is pronounced "JOOD-eh") and his administration will take over Oct. 14 from Moses Blah, the former vice president selected by Taylor as his successor.

He is to serve as chairman in a two-year interim government that will preside over elections, turning over power to democratically chosen successors in 2005.

"I see myself as bringing about a balance across the board," Bryant told the AP an interview Thursday. "I have lived there throughout all these problems, and I see myself as a healer."

Unlike the other two candidates nominated by political parties and civic groups, Bryant is considered neither inflexibly for or against Taylor. Owner of a mining- and port-equipment company, he is not prominent in politics but has been influential at times.

The National Action Party to which he belongs was formed in the 1980s to counter former Sgt. Samuel Doe, a semi-illiterate who oversaw the savage overthrow and execution of Liberia's longtime American-Liberian elite, descendants of freed American slaves.

In 1997, Bryant spearheaded an alliance of six political parties to try to block Taylor's victory in the first presidential elections following Liberia's 1989-96 civil war. The effort failed.

Taylor, a Libyan-trained guerrilla fighter who had launched the civil war, won easily, boosted by his charisma, his illicit profits in underworld trafficking and public fears he would restart the civil war if he lost.

Bryant said his priorities included demobilizing young fighters and restoring security, water and electricity. Power was knocked out in fighting in 1992, and Taylor never repaired it.

"We have to disarm these young men, and let them know the war is over," Bryant said.

In Monrovia, Klein, the U.N. envoy, said he had presented a request to the U.S. ambassador to have U.S. forces remain to train Liberia's lawless, vicious army.

"Some European countries have said they will only participate in the U.N. mission if there's a residual American presence ... That's why we would like them to do the army part," said Klein, a retired U.S. Air Force major general.

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