Mediators Report Breakthrough in Liberian Cease-Fire Talks

Mediators reported a breakthrough Monday in cease-fire talks to quell Liberia's (search) increasingly bloody civil war, while rebel groups and mediators said there was an agreement for warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor (search) to cede power.

Parties to the talks a cease-fire could be signed as early as Tuesday.

"The parties are on board," said Sony Ugoh, an official with the west African regional bloc which is mediating the talks in Ghana (search), a neighboring West African country.

Ugoh and Liberian rebel representatives, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Liberian rebels would join the government to sign the cease-fire Tuesday after returning to Liberia to brief fellow insurgents.

"I can assure you that we are very close," rebel delegate Kabineh Janeh told reporters, as talks broke for the night.

A delegate for the Liberian government side, Mohamed Dukuly, would say only that progress had been made.

Ugoh, the West African mediator, said negotiators had reached a deal that stipulated formation of a transitional government for Liberia within 30 days of the cease-fire.

Ugoh said Taylor, who has ruled Liberia since 1997, would be excluded from the new government.

Delegates, under West African and international mediation and U.S. pressure, have been meeting since early June to try to end fighting in Liberia's 3-year-old civil war which threatens to overrun the capital, Monrovia.

The city is home to 1 million residents and hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The rebels first entered the capital June 5, but have been beaten back repeatedly by government troops.

Taylor, a leader in 14 years of intermittent conflict in Liberia, has signed deals before, only to break them. West African mediators also have been noted for overplaying possible progress.

Taylor announced as recently as June 4 he would step down, but never carried through.

Taylor, descendant of one former American slave family, launched Liberia into civil war in 1989 with a Libyan-backed offensive against Liberia's government.

The war ended in 1996 after 150,000 deaths. Taylor, emerging as the strongest warlord, won presidential elections the next year.

During this latest war, Liberia has seen more than 1 million people displaced internally in violence marked by murder, rape and robbery of civilians. At least 300,000 Liberians have fled to neighboring countries, helping to destabilize much of West Africa.

Announcement of a breakthrough came hours after talks were reported stalemated over the rebel demands that Taylor resign as part of any cease-fire.

Rebels made the most intense push two weeks ago, repeatedly crossing into the outskirts of Liberia's seaside capital, Monrovia, before being repelled. Taylor controls little outside the capital.

Fighting prompted the French-led military evacuation of about 500 foreigners from the capital. Fighting around the capital eased early last week.

In a formal protest Monday, the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy movement urged the international community and mediators "to impress upon Mr. Taylor to stop attacking our positions so that talks can go on and be successful," rebel delegate Edward Sali told The Associated Press.