Liberia's militia warlords sent their shattered country a pre-Christmas message of hope, signing a peace deal offering a cease-fire and elections after five years of civil war.

The deal, which follows a string of abortive Liberian peace pacts, calls for a cease-fire from midnight on Dec. 28 and elections on Nov. 14, 1995, officials said.

It was signed shortly before midnight Wednesday after being thrashed out during two days of talks in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.

The deal includes agreement on the composition of a five-member ruling council to run the West African country until an elected government can take over Jan. 1, 1996.

``If you make it possible for your people to know peace once again, they will remember you with pride, but if you fail to restore normalcy to your country, their judgment will be harsh,'' a solemn President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana told the warlords.

He urged them to ``heed the pleas for peace of the ordinary suffering Liberian people and put an end to this war so once again they can lead normal lives.''

An estimated 150,000 people have died in Liberia since rebels led by former civil servant Charles Taylor invaded from Ivory Coast on Christmas Eve in 1989.

The latest agreement builds on a deal signed by Mr. Taylor and two other main militia leaders in the Ghanaian town of Akosombo in September.

That deal crumbled in the midst of the rejoicing as supporters of the other signatories - Hezekiah Bowen of the Armed Forces of Liberia and Alhaji Kromah of the United Liberation Movement for the Independence of Liberia militia - attacked Taylor's headquarters.

Civilian politicians dismissed the September pact, which envisaged elections in October 1995, as a recipe for military dictatorship. Plans to disarm the various militias fell flat.

Thousands of angry Liberians, some waving machetes, marched through their capital Monrovia Monday telling those leaving for the talks they should return with a treaty or not at all.

The protesters marched from the suburb of Paynesville, where militiamen last week massacred as many as 68 civilians - many of them children - in an as-yet unexplained attack.

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