ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — An American-backed proposal at talks aimed at ending the fighting in Liberia would set up an interim government in August without Charles Taylor or the two leaders of the rebel groups seeking to oust him, negotiators said Wednesday.
President Bush, who is considering a limited deployment of American troops to war-torn Liberia said such a move would depend on Taylor stepping down and leaving the country.
Liberia was founded by freed U.S. slaves.
The draft plan calls for the interim government to be inaugurated by August 2 and for new elections to be held by October 2004. Elections would be open to all parties.
A new elected government would be expected to be in place by early 2005, the document said.
Lewis Brown, the senior government negotiator, said the proposal, one of several under discussion at peace talks in Ghana, was authored by U.S. government officials.
David Queen, a U.S. Embassy spokesman for Ghana, was shown the three-page proposal and said he could not comment on whether or not it was an American one.
Queen said that several U.S. officials had attended the talks and were playing a facilitating role.
Brown said the government supports the proposal overall, but said small changes would be needed to make it consistent with the Liberian constitution, which stipulates that if the president steps down for any reason, his vice president would assume power until the end of his term.
Brown said he foresees Liberian Vice President Moses Blah remaining in office until January 2004, the end of what would have been Taylor's term.
Charles Benny, a leader of one of the main rebel movements, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD, rejected Blah taking over until January 2004.
"(It is) completely unacceptable. We will never accept that," Benny said.
Benny said he believed LURD might consider allowing Blah to take over from Taylor as president, but just until an interim government was established on Aug. 2, as called for in the proposal.
At the United Nations headquarters in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the world expected Taylor to honor his commitment to step down and go to Nigeria.
Annan said the parties involved have reached an understanding that West Africa will send a vanguard of between 1,000 and 1,500 troops to Liberia and once they arrive Taylor would leave and U.S. and other reinforcements would then join the West African force. In the long term, a U.N. peacekeeping force would take over.
Negotiators representing the government and the two main rebel groups, along with opposition parties and civic groups, are hoping to clinch a deal in the coming days to coincide with the promised arrival of peacekeeping troops in Liberia.
Liberian Army Gen. Benjamin Weaten urged Bush to make a decision quickly to send help to Liberia.
"Our citizens are suffering and we want to ask the United States of America to hurry up because everyone is waiting for Americans to be on the ground," Weaten told reporters at the defense ministry in the Liberian capital of Monrovia.
Fourteen years of intermittent conflict since 1989 has killed hundreds of thousands in Liberia. Aid groups say virtually the whole population has been displaced by fighting at one time or another.
Besides being surrounded by rebel forces, Taylor is under indictment by a war crimes court in Sierra Leone on accusations that he supported a brutal rebel movement there.
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