A week after Charles Taylor stepped down from the presidency, rebel leaders and interim government representatives agreed on Monday to share power and sacrifice their own claims to ruling Liberia.

Under the deal, President Moses Blah will step down in October for the chairman of the interim government. The chairman, who will not come from any of the warring factions, is expected to be picked this week.

Under heavy foreign pressure, the main Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group dropped its demand for the number two post in the new government.

“I am a liberator,” said LURD leader Sekou Conneh after signing the deal. “I have finished my job. I am returning to my country as a citizen.”

LURD had been fighting to oust Taylor. The rebels, Blah’s government, opposition parties and civil society groups will share jobs in the cabinet and parliament.

Accusations

Bush vows Marines' stay in Liberia
is limited

Despite the agreement, Defence Minister Daniel Chea accused LURD and the other rebel faction known as MODEL of fighting right up to the signing of the deal. He said people had been killed and homes burned in villages north and southeast of the capital Monrovia.

The rebels said they were not in a position to comment immediately.

More than 1000 Nigerian-led peacekeepers from the region, backed by US Marines are now securing Liberia’s coastal capital, where about 2000 people were killed in the most recent bout of fighting.

Beleaguered Liberians elected Taylor in 1997, hoping for peace after a first round of civil war in the 1990s which claimed 200,000 lives. The west African nation was not yet recovering when his foes emerged to fight him.

US President George Bush said American troops would be out of Liberia by 1 October, stressing the US mission was limited in duration and scoop.

Marines are assisting West African peacekeepers secure Monrovia’s ports from rebels to help humanitarian aid reach hungry Liberians.

A US Marine disembarks on a
Monrovia beach

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced in the recent violence.

“We’ve got UN blue helmeted troops ready to replace our limited number of troops,” Bush said on Monday in a radio and television interview.

A 2300-strong US task force on three warships took up positions off Monrovia this month.

The White House welcomed the agreement and urged all parties to abide by its terms.

Aid groups are struggling to help civilians and replenish looted stores.

But efforts were served a blow on Monday when an aid ship chartered by US-based World Vision sunk off Sierra Leone with $86,000 in relief supplies abroad, including blankets and mats. The crew swam ashore.