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Great Lakes
Last Updated: Friday, 22 August, 2003, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Praise for new Liberian leader
Liberia refugee
Liberia's civilians are hoping for peace at long last
Liberians have welcomed the appointment of a businessman, Gyude Bryant, to head Liberia's interim post-war administration.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia says that the selection by government and rebel delegates of someone considered to be a neutral political figure appears to have kept all sides happy so far.

His appointment was formally announced on Thursday in Ghana, where peace talks have been taking place for more than two months.

Mr Bryant told the BBC that he did not underestimate the task of reconciling Liberia's warring factions, but said he was confident their disarmament would be possible within two years.

Interim President Moses Blah is due to stand down in October in favour of the new administration, which is supposed to organise elections in 2005.

Liberians give their verdict on new interim leader Gyode Bryant

Meanwhile, several delegates to the peace talks were reportedly injured when the wheels fell off the Ghanaian military plane taking them home.

Mr Bryant was not on the plane, which was carrying 44 people from both rebel and government delegations, said one of his aides.

The plane did not leave the ground but the accident forced the closure of Ghana's international airport, reports Reuters news agency.

Hopes raised

Mr Bryant, chairman of the Liberia Action Party, is a leading figure in the Episcopal Church, one of Liberia's main religious denominations, and is not seen as a political heavyweight.

Gyude Bryant
Church leader
Political newcomer
Ethnic Grebo from south

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in the capital, Monrovia, says that Liberians are surprised by his appointment. His deputy, Wesley Johnson, is an accounting lecturer.

Under the power-sharing agreement, neither Liberia's new leader nor the vice-chairman could come from either of the armed factions.

The signing of the agreement on Monday, has raised hopes that Liberia's bitter 14-year war may finally be over.

As the talks closed, chief mediator, retired Nigerian general, Abdulsalami Abubakar, sent the Liberian delegates home with a plea.

"The first step of unifying the people starts from today... Do not let your people down."

A contingent of Ghanaian troops is due to leave for Liberia later on Thursday to join some 900 Nigerian peacekeepers already deployed.

The Nigerian and Ghanaian soldiers are to be joined by troops from Senegal and Mali later in the week. Eventually the West African force will number more than 3,000 troops.

Frontline fears

However, there has been fighting in Bong County, 100 kilometres (62 miles) north-east of Monrovia, despite the ceasefire agreement.

Aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warns that the frontline is now just 45km (28 miles) from camps where some 60,000 people have sought refuge.

Malnourished child in Monrovia

People in the camps are surviving on wild cassava and many children are severely malnourished.

"If the fighting gets closer, we fear a mass displacement of civilians," said MSF head of mission in Liberia Pierre Mendiharat.

The peace deal came a week after Charles Taylor stood down as president and went into exile in Nigeria.

"We thank God for the peace agreement because we as Liberians, we think that we can move freely in this country. No more gun shooting, no more running around. We thank God for that," one resident told the BBC.

"I'm sure it means peace because we can see the international community are here and we see things going on smoothly."

The BBC's Alastair Leithead reports from Monrovia
"Monrovia is trying to get back to normal now the siege is over"

Gyude Bryant, Interim Chairman on Focus on Africa
"We need to cool Liberia down"


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