Warring parties agree to disarm, rebels nominate ministers

Gyude Bryant, the chairman of Liberia's new transitional government, met the leaders of the country's three warring parties on Wednesday and said afterwards that they had all agreed to disarm their fighters.

Bryant told reporters after the meeting that government forces would start handing weapons over to United Nations peacekeeping forces on Thursday.

He said Sekou Conneh, the leader of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel movement and Thomas Nimely, the leader of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) had also agreed to disarm their fighters.

But Bryant, who took over control of the government from caretaker president Moses Blah on Tuesday, did not say when the rebels would start to hand in the weapons.

Blah, who was left in charge when former president Charles Taylor stepped down and went into exile on 11. Blah attended Bryant's meeting with the two rebel leaders.

"The biggest challenge is to disarm the fighters. We have a lot of goodwill from the Liberian people," Bryant told reporters.

"It will take time to make Liberia's interior safe. There will be some bandits of the roads, but we have to collect the guns," he added.

Earlier in the day, the UN World Food Programme said it was suspending food distribution to displaced people outside Monrovia because of poor security in the interior. Clashes between government and rebel fighters have continued in remote rural areas, despite the signing of a peace agreement on 18 August.

Bryant urged Liberians to report any instances of criminal behaviour by the former combatants. "If you know any abuses since the 18 August by armed men, we will be glad to look into it. There will be no more mercy for those who violate the law and commit human rights abuses."

Conneh, the chairman of LURD, told reporters in brief remarks before he was whisked away by heavily armed security guards, that his fighters would start to disarm as soon the new government was fully constituted.

Thomas Nimely, head of the second rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) told reporters: "We should have disarmed a long time ago. We are ready now."

He added that he would travel to areas controlled by MODEL on Thursday to pass the message that the war had ended for good. "We signed the peace agreement. There will be no other peace agreement that we will sign besides this one," Nimely added.

The facilitator of the Liberian peace talks, General Abdusalami Abubakar of Nigeria, said he had obtained agreement from the three leaders that the disarmament of fighters would start soon.

Relief workers estimate that there are about 30,000 fighters still roaming the villages of Liberia. Up to 70 percent are child soldiers, many of whom were forcibly recruited to fight by both Taylor's government and the rebels.

Bryant was selected by delegates to the Liberian peace talks in Ghana to lead the country back to peace after 14 years of civil war. He will preside over a broad-based government of national unity that is due to organise fresh elections in 2005.

The peace settlement allocated each of the warring parties five of the 21 ministries in the new government.

LURD on Wednesday nominated Kabineh Janneh as Minister of Justice, Luseni Kamara as Finance Minister, Vamba Kanneh as Transport Minister and Lavalla Supuwood as Labour Minister.

MODEL meanwhile announced that its leader, Thomas Nimely, would become foreign minister.

Bryant told reporters: "As soon as the parties make their nominations through my office, the officials will start work immediately pending confirmation hearings in the Assembly."

Other appointments were expected to be announced soon, including the key posts of defense and the interior which have been allocated to the former government.

All those nominated to serve in the transitional government must be confirmed in their posts by a new 76-member nominated legislature.

However, this provisional parliament faces its own problems. On Tuesday, General Abubakar, the peace talks facilitator, rejected 15 representatives nominated to represent each of Liberia's 15 counties, saying they had been selected in the capital Monrovia.

His decision provoked a walkout by representatives of Liberia's unarmed political parties at a stormy meeting of the assembly on Wednesday. The session was due to have elected a speaker and deputy speaker for the parliament, but the vote was postponed until Thursday.