HARBEL, LIBERIA, AUG. 13 -- One of Liberia's two rebel leaders agreed today to discuss the civil war with Gambia's president, which may delay deployment of a five-nation West African peace-keeping force intended to stop the conflict.
Rebel leader Charles Taylor has threatened to attack the West African force, which is mobilizing in neighboring Sierra Leone and has been ordered to sail to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and force a truce.
Taylor agreed to meet with Dawda Jawara, president of Gambia, after his group failed in a final effort to oust President Samuel Doe before the West African forces arrive.
A statement from Taylor said he had accepted an invitation from Jawara and would meet him in a few days in Banjul, the Gambian capital. According to the statement issued at the rebel National Patriotic Front's headquarters at Harbel, 35 miles east of the capital, Taylor believes "a meaningful solution can be worked out."
West African leaders decided last week to send troops to halt the country's eight-month civil war, in which 5,000 people have been reported killed. A negotiated solution was blocked when Taylor demanded Doe's immediate resignation and he refused to step down.
Doe, who seized power in a violent coup 10 years ago, told reporters Sunday in Monrovia he wanted to stay in office for at least a year after the West African peace-keepers impose a truce.
Today, Doe appeared to change his mind. A presidential spokesman told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Doe "only was reluctant to stand down while there were two rival factions wanting his post, but that he would cooperate fully with the West African plans once a cease-fire was in force."
In Washington today State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler said about 105 diplomats and private citizens of various nationalities, including several Americans, had driven from Monrovia to the coastal town of Buchanan. The group was then airlifted to U.S. naval ships off Liberia's coast so they could be taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone.