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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 21:55 GMT 22:55 UK
Liberia leader wants charge lifted
Tanks patrolling Monrovia
Monrovia for the time-being is peaceful
Liberian President Charles Taylor has said there can be no peace in his war-torn country unless a UN-backed indictment against him for war crimes is lifted.

The warning came as talks got underway in Ghana on Thursday between his envoys and representatives of rebel forces who reached the Liberian capital Monrovia this weekend.

"If this peace process is to succeed, this indictment has to be removed," President Taylor told journalists.

Liberia is still deeply unstable since rebels reached the outskirts of Monrovia, and on Thursday the United States navy to divert a warship taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom to the coast of the country.

US officials said the USS Kearsage would aid in any evacuation of American citizens and that the special operations forces were onboard.

War crimes

The Liberian president was indicted last week by the UN Special Court in Sierra Leone for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

He is already under UN sanctions for his alleged support to former Sierra Leonean rebels and for the trafficking of so-called "blood diamonds" mined by them.

CHARLES TAYLOR
Charles Taylor
Indicted on war crimes charges
Under UN sanctions
Former warlord
Won 1997 elections

"[The indictment] is not about Charles Taylor, it is about the question to know if Africa can be free... They are doing it to disgrace African leaders," President Taylor said.

The Liberian government on Wednesday agreed a ceasefire with the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) which has been fighting him for four years.

Some of the tens of thousands of people who fled the recent fighting on Monrovia's north-west side have begun to trickle back.

"We've come to see what is left of our properties," one resident Marie Toe told Associated Press news agency.

Bloodshed fears

The peace talks in Akosombo, near the Ghanaian capital Accra are being brokered by the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a UN-backed international contact group on Liberia.

Former Nigerian president Abdulsalami Abubakar is chairing the discussions.


Monrovia residents fear a repeat of the brutal ethnic killings they witnessed during the 1990s civil war, which were supposed to have ended with Mr Taylor's 1997 elections.

Increasing numbers of people have been fleeing the Lurd advance on Monrovia, where up to one million people need urgent help, according to aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

The UN Security Council has expressed deep concern, and called on all sides to cease hostilities.

The Lurd offensive has cut off land escape routes from the city.

The government has asked for more international aid after distributing its dwindling stocks of rice.

"We are appealing to the international community to send supplies. We can hold on for a few more days but things are deteriorating," said Health Minister Peter Coleman.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Welsh
"Charles Taylor says the peace process can go nowhere while the charges are in place"



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