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Liberian foes meet in capital in sign of detente
( 2003-09-03 09:45) (Agencies)

In a fresh sign of detente, Liberia's top military official held talks with one of his former rebel foes in Monrovia Tuesday, crossing what used to be a bitterly contested frontline for the rare meeting.

Defense Minister Daniel Chea met Sekou Fofana, a senior official of the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), in what used to be the insurgents' heartland near the capital's strategic port.

During fierce fighting in June and July, Chea's forces faced off against LURD rebels across Monrovia's major bridges. Around 2,000 civilians were killed by stray bullets and mortars that rained death onto flimsy homes and churches.

LURD forces pulled out of Monrovia after President Charles Taylor stepped down and flew into exile on August 11. Fighting ceased and West African peacekeepers deployed across the bullet-pocked capital.

"For the first time, we have met and this is a good development," Chea told Reuters after the meeting, which was organized by the peacekeeping force, known as Ecomil.

"Right now, we have reached a point where we need to forge ahead for peace," he said.

Although Monrovia has been quiet since a peace deal was agreed between the warring factions in Ghana last month, skirmishes have flared sporadically outside the city limits, far from the peacekeepers.

U.S. Ambassador John Blaney urged all parties Tuesday to respect the peace deal, which is meant to draw a line under 14 years of bloodshed in a nation founded as a haven of liberty by freed American slaves.

"Now, let there be peace and a safer, richer new Liberia. We call upon all sides to end pointless fighting on all fronts," Blaney told reporters in Monrovia.

Chea also delivered a conciliatory message, and said he had traveled unarmed across the bridges to meet his one-time enemy.

"When you go to make peace, you do not carry weapons because within four to five weeks' time, we will be working together here and we do not want any hard feelings to come about," he said.

An interim government meant to shepherd Liberia to elections in 2005 is due to take over from caretaker President Moses Blah in October.

The government will include members of the warring parties and will be chaired by Gyude Bryant, a businessman seen as a neutral, consensus builder.

There are more than 2,000 West African peacekeepers in Liberia and the total is due to rise to around 3,250. Some 2,300 U.S. soldiers are also on standby in the waters off Monrovia.

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