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Friday, 26 July, 2002, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Liberia marks uncertain future
Residents who fled begin to trickle back into Tubmanburg
Civilians near the capital live in fear of rebel attacks

The Liberian government is marking the country's Independence Day and celebrations have already begun in the capital, Monrovia, with military parades, and the trooping of colours.

Later, President Charles Taylor will formally open a national conference, aimed at discussing the nations troubles and differences.

The government is billing this as a great moment - the chance for all Liberians to come together to talk.

But fighting between government troops and rebels has steadily worsened this year and at times the capital itself has seemed under threat.

Diplomats believe the whole region is in danger of being destabilised.

Worthless talks

The government says everyone is welcome to the talks and will be given protection, even the rebels themselves if they come as Liberian citizens rather than as an armed group.

Liberian President Charles Taylor
President Taylor has little to celebrate

But neither the Lurd rebels, nor the main opposition parties, which are based outside this country, are planning to take part.

They all attended talks set up by Liberia's neighbour, Burkina Faso, two weeks ago.

President Charles Taylor stayed away, saying he wanted Liberians to talk about their country in their country.

The national conference will involve hundreds or thousands of people from all over this country and will last at least a month.

But Western diplomats say without the presence of those most critical of the Taylor regime, it's worthless, that he's trying to hide a lack of talks about peace behind a lot of talk about nothing.

Clashes

Fighting between government troops and rebel forces has forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, causing a refugee crisis and threatening to destabilise the rest of the region.

Gen. Benjamin Yeaten, who led the attack on Tubmanburg
Liberian soldiers are being kept busy
Last weekend the government took back the strategic town of Tubmanburg but fighting continues nearby and the rebels have told me they still have their sights set on Monrovia itself.

Even as this country prepares to launch the national conference there is confusion over what exactly it will talk about and who will be there.

Information Minister Reginald Goodrich says there will be village chiefs and county officials from all over the country, that there will be hundreds, maybe thousands involved and that they will talk about the future of the country.

The president told his people last week that they would be talking of the past and that this is one part of a process which might last 10 years.

Africa's oldest republic marks its independence today with a very uncertain future.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC correspondent Paul Welsh on Network Africa
"Taylor is simply doing it to try to look as if he is doing something, without actually doing anything at all"
News, analysis and background from Liberia's conflict and escalating refugee crisis

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03 Jul 02 | Africa
02 Jul 02 | Africa
07 Jun 02 | Africa
07 May 02 | Africa
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