Taylor agrees to Nigerian asylum offer

Under pressure from the US and rebel groups, Liberian President Charles Taylor has agreed to resign and accept an asylum offer from Nigeria, but with conditions.

    Charles Taylor is expected to
    resign soon

    Taylor, said he would leave but he wanted to be sure there would be an orderly transition in his country

    "We believe that it is not unreasonable to request that there be an orderly exit from power," Taylor said.

    Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo travelled to Monrovia on Sunday to discuss Taylor's exit from the war-torn West African country.

    He said he did not want to be "harassed" because he had offered Taylor refuge.

    Obasanjo also demanded an orderly transition. 

    "I have extended an invitation...that President Taylor has a safe haven in Nigeria any time he chooses, and as you heard, he has said he has accepted," Obasanjo said.

    Taylor, seen by many as the key instigator of West Africa's many tangled wars, has been indicted for war crimes by an international court in Sierra Leone for backing brutal rebels in that country's savage conflict.

    The court has said it would ask Nigeria to turn Taylor over to the court, though Nigeria has no extradition treaty with the special war crimes court and is under no legal obligation to
    comply.

    UN diplomats said this week that Taylor had rejected an earlier Nigerian exile offer, because authorities could not guarantee that he would not be extradited to face trial in Sierra Leone at a UN-backed court for war crimes.

    US President George W Bush, who visits Africa next week, has repeatedly urged Taylor to leave Liberia immediately.

    US officials are still debating whether to send American soldiers to Africa, 10 years after a bloody exit from Somalia.

    US President Bush visits Africa
    next week

    US undecided on troops

    Spokesperson Ari Fleischer said Bush had not yet decided whether to send US peacekeepers to Liberia, but left open the possibility. 

    A Pentagon team of 10 to 15 military and civilian officials would go to West Africa to do preliminary planning in the event peacekeepers are sent, one defence official said.

    West African military chiefs, meeting in Ghana pledged 3,000 troops from the region and said they also hoped for contributions from the United States, South Africa and Morocco. They wanted a total peacekeeping force of at least 5,000.  

    "Some countries have made pledges ... There are indications that South Africa is interested. We are also hoping that Morocco and the United States will contribute," said one official.

    Taylor is alleged to have backed rebels in Sierra Leone's civil war in exchange for diamonds

    A former rebel leader himself, Taylor is accused of masterminding more than a decade of tangled regional conflicts. Last month he was convicted by a UN court in Sierra Leone for war crimes. He initially refused to resign unless charges against him were dropped.

    But in a speech to religious leaders on Friday, at his presidential mansion in Monrovia, Taylor said: “I think it is important that peacekeepers come first. I can't understand why the US wants me out before they arrive."

    At least 200,000 Liberians have
    died since the 1990s

    Many casualties

    Violence in the last month alone has claimed an estimated 700 civilian lives in and around Monrovia, as rebels battled government troops for control of the capital.

    The World Health Organisation said more than 97,000 people, displaced by the fighting were living in makeshift camps, and cholera and other diseases were on the rise in Liberia. 

    Rebels currently control nearly two-thirds of Liberia after launching a war to oust Taylor three years ago.

    Taylor won the 1997 elections after emerging as the dominant faction leader after a war that left 200,000 dead in the 1990s.

    However, there could be further instability even after his exile since there is no clear successor to Taylor in Liberia.

    US officials have not said who will replace him, and most regional analysts say the rebels are not an option, as they lack political maturity. Liberia's opposition is also weak and fragmented.

    Under the constitution, Taylor's successor would be Vice President Moses Blah. A loyalist from the days of the bush struggle, Blah was detained briefly last month on suspicion of involvement in an alleged US instigated coup plot.


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