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LIBERIA: Monrovia businessman to head transitional government

ACCRA, 21 August 2003 (IRIN) - Delegates at the Liberian peace talks in Ghana have chosen Gyude Bryant, a 54-year old businessman, to head a two-year National Transitional Government that will take over from Interim President Moses Blah on 14 October.

Bryant, a member of the Liberia Action Party, was elected on Thursday morning after an all-night meeting of representatatives of the Liberian government, two rebel movements and 18 political parties.

He will become Chairman of the Transitional Government - effectively the president and head of state.

Bryant's task will be to rebuild a nation shattered by 14 years of civil war and organise elections in October 2005 for a democratic government that is due to take power in January 2006.

Wesley Johnson, a 58-year-old economist and university lecturer, who was put forward by the Liberian United People's Party, was elected Vice-Chairman of the Transitional Government.

Both men will be barred from standing in the 2005 elections. Their election concluded 78 days of peace talks in Accra brokered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). They were chosen under the terms of a peace agreement signed on Monday.

Mohammed Ibn Chambas, Executive Secretary of ECOWAS, said: "This is only one phase of the whole process. The talks will now move to Monrovia for the formation of the 21-member cabinet, the 76-member uni-cameral national transitional legislative assembly and a handover ceremony on 14 October."

A sombre Bryant told reporters: "I hope that I bring a neutral character to this new government. We have to cut off the anger and hate and set up a proper foundation for our country. Tempers have been inflamed and we have to go back and heal Liberia."

Bryant beat two other candidates for the post of chairman: former United Nations official Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was a runner up to Charles Taylor in the 1997 presidential election, and Rudolph Sherman, who was widely seen as sympathetic to ex-President Taylor.

"My government will be an all inclusive one," Bryant said. "We cannot go back to Liberia preaching policies of exclusion. There is a role for everyone including interim President Blah."

"The only one out is former President Charles Taylor," he added.

Taylor, who has been indicted for war crimes by a UN-backed court in Sierra Leone, was forced by international pressure to resign and go into exile in Nigeria on 11 August. He handed over power to Blah, his vice-president.

Taylor's departure paved way for two rebel movements, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), to reach a peace agreement with the rump of his government.

Bryant said a whole range of problems would have to be addressed urgently. "There is a great crisis in Liberia since we are coming out of war," he said. "We have an awesome task to perform in reconstructing our country and I do not have to focus on one single priority."

A politician who has been based in Liberia throughout the 14 years of civil war, Bryant is a leader of the Episcopal Church, one of Liberia's main religious denominations.

He is from the Grebo ethnic group of southern Liberia, which remained relatively neutral during the long years of conflict.

Vice Chairman-elect Wesley Johnson, 58

Bryant graduated from the Cuttington University College in the United States, with a degree in Economics. In 1972, he joined Liberia's largest private company, the Mensurado Group, as manager of its fishing fleet.

A year later, he became head of the planning and development department of the Liberian National Port Authority.

Bryant founded his own company, the Liberia Machinery and Supply Company, which deals in mining and shipping equipment, in 1977.

He is married to Rosie Lee Bryant, with whom he has three children.

"For the next two years, I am looking forward to a united Liberia, a healed Liberia and a Liberia, where reconstruction has started and where there is a complete disarmament and rehabilitation of all former combatants," Bryant said.

Following the election of the Chairman and his deputy, the ECOWAS team that brokered the peace agreement embarked on a two-day tour of regional capitals to explain the deal and seek support for it.

The mission is due to visit Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

"We are going along with Liberian President Blah to see the Presidents of these West African countries to brief them on what we have done here in Accra and also to ensure peace in the region," the talks facilitator and former Nigerian head of state, General Abdusalami Abubakar told reporters.

West African foreign ministers are meanwhile due to brief the UN Security Council in New York on the latest developments in the Liberian situation on Tuesday, ECOWAS officials said.

ECOWAS has so far deployed two batallions of Nigerian peacekeeping troops totalling 1,500 men in Liberia as the vanguard of a multinational force known as ECOMIL.

ECOWAS officials said a third composite batallion, comprising 750 troops from Ghana, Mali and Senegal would start arriving over the next few days.

ECOMIL officials in Monrovia said a fourth composite batallion, made up of soldiers from Togo, Benin, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau would be deployed by mid-September, bringing ECOMIL'strength up to 3,000.

A much larger UN peacekeeping force, which will include troops from other parts of the world, is expected to replace ECOMIL in October.

"Naturally, until we get the full force of the peacekeepers on the ground, there will be some armed skirmishes. Give us a week or two and we will get the troops on the ground," General Abdulsalami Abubakar said.

Theme (s): Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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