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Rival Leaders Agree to Cease-Fire; Cholera Seeps into Monrovia

April 20, 1996

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ A cease-fire has ended street fighting in the Liberian capital, but local health workers have been left to deal with another killer: cholera and malaria.

The leader of a rebel faction holed up in a military compound agreed Friday to end the two-week-old flare-up that had prompted a U.S. military evacuation of more than 2,000 foreigners.

In the strongest indication yet that the new truce might hold, the Ulimo faction, led by Roosevelt Johnson, freed 78 foreigners who had been trapped in the fighting. Two previous cease-fires failed.

The 78 civilians, mainly Lebanese, were taken to the headquarters of a West African U.N. peacekeeping contingent.

Ulimo representatives accepted the peace plan during talks at the U.S. Embassy with representatives of the United Nations, the peacekeeping force, and foreign diplomats, said U.S. Ambassador William Milan.

Under the cease-fire plan, peacekeepers will set up a buffer zone around the besieged Barclay Training Center, the army compound where Johnson and his fighters barricaded themselves against government troops.

Johnson and rival warlord Charles Taylor did not attend the talks. But Taylor, who has declared himself Liberia’s president, has said he would accept a truce if the peacekeeping troops were deployed around the Barclay barracks.

The government has accused Johnson of murder; it was an attempt to arrest him that led to the April 6 flare-up in Liberia’s 6 1/2-year-old civil war.

Foreigners remaining inside the disease-plagued Barclay compound _ including 37 peacekeepers held hostage _ were to be freed today, and humanitarian assistance was to be allowed to resume across the city, Milan said.

Containing cholera and malaria outbreaks in the crippled city has been left up to local health volunteers. The last foreign aid workers left the West African country earlier this week.

On Friday, Dr. Eric Nogi, chief of international emergency and refugee health for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, visited the sprawling U.S.-owned Graystone compound, once the residential section for embassy workers and now home to about 20,000 Liberian refugees.

Nogi surveyed the only water well there, and shook his head at the smell of human waste and the stream of fluids that trickled into the well.

The water is believed to be the source of severe diarrhea that has killed seven people at Graystone.

Health officials believe the diarrhea is caused by cholera, but they have no way to test for the disease, which is easily treated with antibiotics and rehydration fluids or salts.

``The control of cholera is well-established and incredibly effective,″ Nogi said. ``But if you have no one to implement those steps, cholera can be a disaster.″

He emphasized there were no serious epidemics yet, largely because Liberians were in relatively good health when the fighting began.

At the Red Cross tents at Graystone, medical supplies were quickly dwindling. Three people have died of gunshot wounds and 32 babies have been born at the compound in the last 10 days.

At a nearby clinic set up in the looted homes of evacuated workers for the French aid agency Doctors Without Borders, at least four people have died of what is believed to be cholera.

Theo Barlay, the Liberian administrator for Doctors Without Borders, said rebels stormed the homes and looted all the vehicles and communications equipment as soon as the French workers fled.

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