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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 October 2003, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Q&A: New hope in Liberia
Businessman Gyude Bryant has become Liberia's latest leader.

He is tasked with heading a power-sharing government - which includes two rebel groups, loyalists of former President Charles Taylor and the civilian opposition - which is supposed to organise elections next year.

Will the peace hold?

If Mr Bryant can make the former enemies work together, things will finally start looking up after 14 years of conflict in Liberia.

Optimists say that all sides are tired of war and realise that everyone's interests are best served by peace.

The different groups did manage to agree on Mr Bryant as the interim leader at peace talks in Ghana.

Pessimists say there have been countless previous peace deals and, after lulls, the fighting has always reignited.

How did we reach this point?

Earlier this year, rebel fighters reached the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia, but they never managed to seize control.

As the deadlock continued, the two sides started peace talks in Ghana.

Eventually, they agreed a ceasefire, the departure of then President Charles Taylor and a power-sharing government led by Mr Bryant.

West African peacekeepers, backed up by a small group of United States marines, were sent to Monrovia and fighting there stopped.

The United Nations has now taken charge of peacekeeping and the US marines have left.

Is there fighting at the moment?

The peacekeepers helped bring peace to Monrovia but little is known about the rest of the country.

There are periodic reports of clashes, and correspondents say that rebel fighters and militias loyal to Mr Taylor continue to loot, rape and kill with impunity.

What are the peacekeepers doing about that?

The UN peacekeeping force is due to number some 15,000, making it the world's largest.

Reinforcements from Bangladesh have arrived but the UN says that more troops will be needed before they try and move out of Monrovia to disarm some 40,000 combatants across the country.

However, the full force is not expected to be in place for several months.

Will the rebels disarm?

They say they will and they did pull out from Monrovia without confronting the West African troops.

But a gun-battle when rebel leader Sekou Conneh went to Monrovia for talks highlighted the size of the UN mission.

Some fear that all sides may have less respect for the peacekeepers without the back-up of the marines.

What happened to Charles Taylor?

In August, he stepped down and went into exile in Nigeria, despite being indicted for alleged war crimes by a United Nations-backed court for his part in the brutal civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

He was replaced by his deputy Moses Blah, who will hand over to Mr Bryant.

The UN has warned that he is still trying to influence events in Liberia and Nigeria has warned him to stop.

Nigeria certainly has power over Mr Taylor because it could hand him over to face trial in Sierra Leone at any time.

What has the fighting been about?

It's basically about personalities and ethnic groups fighting for control of resources.

Mr Taylor launched a rebellion in 1989, before winning elections in 1997 - the last time the war was supposed to be over.

But he never included his former enemies in the government and fighting resumed just two years later.

Mr Taylor was accused of destabilising neighbouring countries, especially Sierra Leone where he was said to have profited massively from supporting rebels operating in diamond-mining areas.

Neighbouring Guinea and Ivory Coast were also unhappy with Mr Taylor and have helped the rebels, who control most of the country.

Since its foundation by freed American slaves in 1847, their descendents, such as Mr Taylor, have held power at the expense of indigenous ethnic groups.

The Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) rebel group is dominated by ethnic Mandigos, while the smaller Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model) is mostly ethnic Krahn.

What is life like in Liberia?

Still pretty terrible but at least residents of Monrovia no longer have to worry about being killed by stray bullets.

Markets which were war-zones just weeks ago are bustling centres once more.

But many thousands of people in the capital are still malnourished and those who have fled there from elsewhere in the country are reluctant to return home until the fighters, often high on drugs, are disarmed.

What makes Liberia significant?

Stability in Liberia is vital to its neighbours, not least to Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, which have also found themselves caught up in the fighting in recent years.

Critics say the departure of Charles Taylor will lead to greater peace and prosperity in the sub-region and thus allow the whole of West Africa to get back to concentrating on economic development rather than solving conflicts.

But several previous peace deals have soon fallen apart.

Mr Bryant will have the tough job of making the former enemies work together and disarming the thousands of young men and women who have grown used to earning their living by robbing civilians.

The government he heads is tasked with organising elections in 2005.


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