ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Two rival rebel leaders in Liberia have reached a settlement that could help pave the way for the formation of a government of national unity, news reports monitored here said yesterday.
The rebel factions headed by Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson held peace talks Friday night in Monrovia, Liberia's capital. Mr. Johnson said that the two groups would now work together.
In addition, Mr. Johnson reportedly asked for the resignation of Amos Sawyer, the head of an interim government installed by a five-nation West African peacekeeping force in November.
Until now, Mr. Johnson has been a strong supporter of Mr. Sawyer. At the same time, he has been fiercely critical of Mr. Taylor, the leader of the main rebel group, which controls most of the country.
But in an interview Friday night with the British Broadcasting Corp., Mr. Johnson said that Mr. Sawyer's government was no longer "valid."
He was also sharply critical of the West African force's commander, Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro of Nigeria, whom he accused of threatening to attack his base at Caldwell, eight miles northeast of Monrovia.
Mr. Johnson gave no further details on the agreement between him and Mr. Taylor.
Nonetheless, an African diplomat who has closely followed developments in the civil war described the agreement between the two rebel leaders as a breakthrough that could augur well for negotiations in Monrovia next month between all of Liberia's factional leaders. The meeting is expected to set a schedule for national elections.
At the same time, the diplomat said, the agreement between Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor appears to jeopardize the interim government.
"This agreement really undermines Sawyer," the diplomat said, "but in the long run it could help the prospects for peace, because the one thing most Liberians agree on is that they don't want outsiders -- especially the Nigerians -- running their country."
Leaders of the 16-nation Economic Community of West African States intervened last August, asserting that the war was no longer solely an internal conflict because thousands of their citizens were trapped in Liberia and an estimated 500,000 Liberians had fled to neighboring countries.
Nigeria, by far the most populous and richest country in the region, is supplying most of the material and the bulk of the forces.