Peace force to enter Liberia on Monday

WEST AFRICAN leaders yesterday pledged to have the first peace troops in warring Liberia by Monday and said indicted war-crimes suspect President Charles Taylor would go into exile within days.

The commitment came at a summit of West African heads of state in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, as pressure grew on regional leaders to speed up a peace force promised almost since rebels opened two months of bloody siege on Liberia’s capital in early June.

A vanguard force, expected to be two Nigerian battalions with about 1,500 men in total, would be deployed by Monday, said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, executive secretary of the West African leaders’ bloc.

“The heads of states and government decided that the first task of the vanguard force should be to provide the appropriate conditions for the hand over of power, and departure from Liberia of President Taylor,” Mr Chambas said.

Mr Chambas called for an immediate ceasefire by both sides in Liberia, where rebels are pressing home a three-year-old campaign to take the capital and drive out Mr Taylor, a former warlord blamed in 14 years of near constant conflict in the once-prosperous West African nation.

Ghana’s foreign minister, Nana Akuffo Ado, said troops would go in regardless of a ceasefire.

Rebels and government alike in Liberia have broken repeated truce pledges since fighting started.

Three US warships, headed by the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, with almost 2,000 marines on board, are believed to be now cruising off Liberia’s Atlantic coast.

US President George W Bush has said US troops will not go ashore until a ceasefire is enforced.

Mr Taylor, a wanted UN war-crimes suspect for his backing of rebels in the neighbouring nation of Sierra Leone, has said in recent weeks he would yield power as soon as the peace troops arrive.

It was not clear whether West African leaders had specifically won his agreement.

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