AFTER 11 months of mayhem in Liberia, the cease-fire agreement signed in Mali on Wednesday marks an important advance of reason over irrationality. The task now is to sustain this breakthrough. And the three warring parties to the accord -- the forces of Charles Taylor, Prince Johnson and those of slain President Samuel Doe -- clearly have every incentive to do that and absolutely no warrant to take up arms again. Today in Liberia, there are no victors, only the vanquished. Since the civil war erupted last December, more than 10,000 Liberians have lost their lives -- that's more than all the blacks killed in racial strife in South Africa in the past 10 years.

The value of the Mali accord is not just that it represents a formal end to the fighting. That agreement can, and should, serve as a prelude to the next major undertakings, which are the installation of a broadly based interim government in Monrovia to guide the country through the transition to internationally supervised free and fair elections and the development of a program of reconciliation and reconstruction for the country.

That Liberia has made this much headway can be attributed to the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, which has now made its mark as an important multilateral force in Africa. It was ECOWAS's decision to dispatch a five-nation peace-keeping force to Liberia last August that led to a halt to the killings. And it was the 13 ECOWAS chiefs of state who met in Mali with the warring factions and the interim government headed by Amos Sawyer that helped produce this landmark agreement. And it must be ECOWAS, again, that remains in Liberia to enforce this hard-won cease-fire.

Meanwhile, despite the silenced guns, Liberians continue to starve and die, and neighboring nations of Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast and Guinea sag under the weight of caring for reportedly 600,000 Liberian refugees. The economically hard-pressed ECOWAS nations and the interim government cannot be expected to carry this load by themselves. Nor should they. The United States, Liberia's oldest friend, must continue to play a major role. The political role was constructively played out in September by the intervention of senior State Department officials with Liberia's warring factions. And economically, this country has provided close to $65 million in food aid and, with the cessation of heavy fighting in Monrovia at the end of September, has sent more than 800 metric tons of food and vegetable oil and $2 million of medicine and medical supplies. But that still falls short of what's needed, especially from the rest of those who can help.

The U.S. share is 80 percent of the total world supply of humanitarian assistance to Liberia. The United States should prevail upon other wealthy nations -- especially the Europeans and Japan -- to step up their assistance to Liberia. On the matter of reconciliation, however, the United States should have special sympathy and understanding for Liberia and all that country will have to endure in the future. After all, our civil war ended 125 years ago, and our scars have yet to completely heal.