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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 18:56 GMT
Liberian opposition unites against Taylor
Liberian President Charles Taylor
President Taylor has promised elections for 2003
Opposition parties in Liberia are trying to unite in order to contest next year's presidential election under one banner.


We want a merger, we want to become one single party... and elect a new leader

Chea Cheapo, MLPP co-ordinator

The five opposition leaders, who are based in the United States, include Harry Moniba, the former vice-president of Liberia, and Alhaji Kromah, former vice-chairman of the council of the state.

Liberian President Charles Taylor announced in September that the lifting of restrictions, including an end to a ban on political rallies, would pave the way for national reconciliation before next year's elections.

The BBC West Africa correspondent, Paul Welsh, says parties in opposition to the government of President Charles Taylor realise that they are ineffective because they are so fragmented.

Our correspondent says that in the past, attempts to present a united front have failed as all the leaders want to be president.

New leader

Although the five opposition figures acknowledge that the leadership issue is a crucial one, they say it is secondary right now.

"We want a merger, we want to become one single party... and elect a new leader," Chea Cheapo, the co-ordinator of the Committee for the Merger of Liberian Political Parties (MLPP) told the BBC's Focus on Africa.

Liberian troops
Taylor's troops have fought Lurd rebels since 1999

He said they were talking with Liberians in Liberia, in the Diaspora and in refugee camps in Africa and elsewhere.

Significantly missing from the list of participants is Ellen Joseph Sirleaf who was runner up to President Taylor in 1997.

But Mr Cheapo said she was welcome to join the talks.

"We'll be talking to Ellen Joseph Sirleaf... We're talking to all politicians," he said.

Mr Cheapo dismissed Ms Sirleaf's belief that the talks should take place in Liberia, not abroad.

"If you want to do something, the sooner the better," he said.

He added that he intended to return to Liberia "as soon as possible".

Rebels

The talks may eventually include the Lurd rebels.

"We want them to participate in this merger, this united front," he said.

"We've been suggesting to the government publicly that they should try to negotiate with the Lurd so that we can have peace."

Liberian opposition leader Rudolph Sherman
The official opposition welcomed the relaxing of the emergency

But he added that they would have to disarm first.

"They would have to lay down their weapons. They can't come to the elections with guns in their hands," Mr Cheapo said.

He said he believed President Taylor would allow a united opposition to contest the election against him.

"Charles Taylor is quite aware that all Liberians have a right to decide who they want to be their president," he said.

Mr Taylor, a former warlord who came to power after elections in 1997, is fighting the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) rebels who, for three years, have waged a guerrilla war reminiscent of the civil war of the 1990s.

The conflict in northern Liberia is closely linked to Sierra Leone's decade of conflict, which was declared over last January, and to a bloody insurgency in Guinea last year.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Chea Cheapo on Focus on Africa
"Yes, we want Lurd to join"
News, analysis and background from Liberia's conflict and escalating refugee crisis

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14 Sep 02 | Africa
04 Sep 02 | Africa
03 Aug 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
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