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New Liberian leader faces huge task to meet hopes
( 2003-10-13 20:35) (Agencies)

The enormity of the task facing Liberia's interim leader when he takes office on Tuesday will be equalled only by the hopes of his shattered West African country and the traumatised region.

Low-profile businessman Gyude Bryant, 54, was picked to guide Liberia by warring factions who signed a peace deal after ex-President Charles Taylor flew into exile in August.

Backed up by what will become the world's biggest UN peacekeeping force, Bryant's administration is meant to disarm roaming bands of fighters and get hundreds of thousands of refugees home before elections in 2005.

Regional mediators hope it will also draw a line under strife that has left more than 200,000 people dead and spilled savage chaos into Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

"Peace in Liberia will go a long way to settling the causes of conflict in the sub-region," Abdulsalami Abubakar, the top West African mediator on Liberia, told Reuters.

"The task of the new government will be to lay the foundations of peace and rebuild the country with the support of the international community. They have a lot of responsibility."

Expectations are also high among Liberians that the administration chaired by Bryant will revive what was once one of Africa's wealthiest countries, but where most people now live on less than one dollar a day.

"This is a new beginning for us. We don't want to see war any more, ever," said 27-year old technician Roland Delamou.


But nobody in Liberia has forgotten more than a dozen peace deals signed and broken during nearly 14 years of violence.

And there is huge potential for discord within a cabinet that brings in five ministers each from two rebel factions and from Taylor's former government as well as some of his political opponents and members of civic groups.

Bryant, seen as a shrewd consensus builder, will take over the reins from President Moses Blah, Taylor's old deputy and chosen successor.

Abubakar said it was a good sign that the warring factions had chosen a civilian to lead Liberia.

"All of them are tired of war and say they want peace as long as the new government brings transparency, justice and equity," he said. "I hope they will rally behind him."

A measure of peace has returned to Liberia since Taylor left. West African peacekeepers, now under UN command, have restored order to the battle-scarred capital Monrovia.

But misery still grips the rest of a country founded by freed American slaves in 1847.

Marauding pro-Taylor militias and rebel fighters still hold sway in the interior, raping and looting with impunity. Aid agencies say they are far from getting essential aid to the fearful and famished refugees hiding in the bush. 

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