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Liberia's new beginning

IF LIBERIA'S peace deal is to succeed, it will require a new spirit of cooperation among the country's power brokers. Civil institutions must be rebuilt, new coalitions formed.

Unless this happens, the transitional government, which is to replace the current caretaker president, Moses Blah, won't be able to function. Fifty-one percent of the 76-member top administration is required to approve any action it takes, and no single faction can hope to muster such a majority without seeking consensus and compromise.

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The current government and the two rebel groups each have 12 members, political parties have 18 members, and civil society groups have seven members. Liberia's 15 counties have one representative each. This dispersal of votes ought to force Liberia's power brokers to seek new alliances.

The numerous old political parties are badly in need of reform and consolidation. Most of them silently tolerated the misrule of former President Charles Taylor - or moved their leadership overseas. They now have to re-earn their credibility or disappear. Indeed, changes in the party structure seem inevitable: The rebel formations have been told that they must throw away guns and transform themselves into political movements if they hope to influence Liberia's future.

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But the U.S. government and civic organizations also have a role to play in this transition. Even though President Bush has set a strict deadline for ending the limited U.S. military participation in peacekeeping, humanitarian and economic aid can promote healing. Religious groups, too, ought to consider stepping up their aid.

Liberia is certain to face a rocky road as it works to end 14 years of turmoil, but aid from outsiders certainly can make the transition easier. Peacekeeping alone is not enough - maintaining order must be complemented with international help in civic rebuilding.


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