The cease-fire was signed in Ghana, the site of recent peace talks between Taylor’s government and two rebel factions. The rebels, who control some two-thirds of the country, initially demanded that Taylor step down as a condition of their agreement to the truce.
Hours after the truce was signed, government officials appeared to hedge on the details of Taylor’s resignation.
“We believe that all of those demands — like resignation, stepping aside, interim government and unity government — will have to be thrashed out,” government spokesman Vaanii Paasawe told the Associated Press.
Earlier, Taylor’s defense minister, Daniel Chea, who signed the cease-fire in Ghana’s capital city of Accra, appeared to commit the Liberian leader to the deal’s stipulations.
“President Taylor fully supports this peace accord, and the government will do anything to ensure its success,” Chea said, according to the Associated Press.
“We have done the greatest thing this afternoon by signing this cease-fire,” he said. “By this, we’re letting the world know that the government of Liberia wishes in no way to be part of any further bloodshed.”
Full details of the cease-fire agreement were not made immediately available, but media reports indicate the truce will take effect starting at 1 a.m. local time Wednesday and that talks would begin on the creation of a transitional government that does not include Taylor, although the full timetable appears uncertain.
The cease-fire also reportedly gives mediators and leaders 30 days to complete full peace negotiations and opens the door to the possible deployment of a peacekeeping force in the country.
Chea and rebel leaders Kabineh Janeh of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and Tia Slanger of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia signed the agreement and then shook hands, leading monitors and observers to cheer and applaud.
“No more shall our people take guns to settle our grievances. Let us find ways to silence the guns and see to the prosperity of our people,” Janeh said.
But Janeh also sounded a note of caution, according to a United Nations information network account.
“Let me make it clear. The document we have just signed falls short of all the things we want. In the supreme interest of our country and people, we have all made concessions,” he said.
The United States, the European Union, Nigeria and Ghana have all called for an end to the conflict in Liberia. Representatives from all four countries signed Tuesday’s agreement as witnesses.
In Liberia, news of the cease-fire sparked celebrations in the streets of the capital city of Monrovia, according to media reports. It was not clear whether word had spread of Taylor’s apparent commitment to step down, a move that many fear may spark a violent power struggle.
“We want peace, no more war,” chanted crowds in the Duala district, where fighting raged last week, according to a Reuters report.
Fighting has increased on several fronts in recent weeks in Liberia, with rebels threatening to overtake Monrovia — a move that led thousands to abandon their homes after clashes last week.
In early June, a special U.N.-backed war crimes court indicted Taylor for war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of international humanitarian law during neighboring Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war.
After Tuesday’s deal was signed, a spokesman for the U.N.-Sierra Leone war crimes court said Taylor would still have to answer for the accusations against him.
“Whether he’s president or not, he’s indicted by the special court, so he should have his day in court,” David Hecht said.
After his indictment in early June, Taylor said that he would step aside as Liberia’s leader for the cause of peace at the end of his current term, in January 2004.
“If President Taylor is seen as a problem, then I will remove myself. I’m doing this because I’m tired of the people dying. I can no longer see this genocide in Liberia,” he said at the time, according to the AP.
But Taylor has also warned there would be no peace in Liberia unless the war crimes indictment against him is dropped.
Taylor himself sparked a revolt in Liberia in 1989 in an attempt to end years of dictatorship — a conflict that cost a reported 200,000 lives. He assumed power after a democratic election in 1997, but faced his own rebel uprising three years later.
After Liberia descended into civil war in the early 1990s, widespread fighting began in Sierra Leone as well, led by rebels who reportedly crossed into the country from Liberia. The fighting grew more brutal over time, with roving bands of rebels often hacking the limbs of civilians as they roamed the countryside.
A 1996 peace accord failed to stop the fighting, and the war raged in Sierra Leone until troops from the U.N., Britain and the West African nation of Guinea succeeded in disarming the combatants in January 2002.