Taylor out of sight as peacekeepers arrive

Liberian President Charles Taylor skipped a planned resignation speech to parliament on Thursday as west African peacekeepers began patrolling the war-battered capital Monrovia.

    West African peacekeepers receive a jubilant welcome

    Taylor's spokesman Vanii Passewe told AFP that the beleaguered leader would not address the emergency parliament session but reaffirmed that he would hand over power on Monday, as promised to west African mediators seeking to end the country's second civil war in little more than a decade.

    "He's not going to the Capitol, but the legislators are meeting," Passewe said, adding, "For sure he'll hand over power on Monday."

    However, scepticism abounded over whether Taylor - who controls only a fifth of the ravaged west African country nearly five years since he was elected following a military coup - would keep to his word.

    "For sure he'll hand over power on Monday."

    -President Taylor's spokesman

    "Taylor's promises aren't worth anything. He will only go by force," said rebel leader Sekou Damate Conneh, head of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), in an interview with Radio France Internationale.

    "Today, he is still fighting. That means he isn't ready for peace. I do not even want to negotiate with a man who has massacred the people and devastated the country."

    Peacekeepers enter Monrovia

    Meanwhile a convoy of West African peacekeepers rolled into Liberia's capital on Thursday for the first time since their arrival earlier this week, Reuters reported.

    Thousands of onlookers, cheering and shouting "No more war, we want peace," mobbed the white armoured personnel carriers as they rumbled towards Paynesville Junction on their way into Monrovia's central district.

    Nigerian General Festus Okonkwo, the commander of the west African peacekeeping force, said the troops would stage patrols only in the government-held southern and eastern zones of the seaside capital, besieged by rebels for over two months.

    He said the force would start patrols in the rebel-held northern area next week.

    War crimes

    War-ravaged Monrovia is now home to a quarter of a million displaced people living in appalling conditions amid an acute shortage of food, potable water and medicines.

    Time is running out for Charles Taylor

    Taylor, who sparked Liberia's last civil war in 1989, appears to be playing for time as he seeks to duck war crimes charges for his role in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

    His government has asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague to intervene over an indictment for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, which ended in 2001, an ICJ statement said on Wednesday.

    Arms seized

    On Thursday, west African peacekeepers blocked a cache of arms apparently ordered by the Taylor government, which is under a UN arms embargo, a military source told AFP.

    The source, who requested anonymity, said the soldiers apprehended two trucks at the airport filled with arms including rocket launchers, automatic weapons and ammunition.

    They arrived on an unidentified plane at around 2:00 am (0200 GMT).

    Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea visited the airport later Thursday and inspected the arms with General Okonkwo.

    The vanguard of the west African peacekeeping force - some 450 mechanised infantry and special forces, all Nigerian - have been positioned at Monrovia airport along with five armoured personnel carriers before deploying into the city.

    The United States, which has 2,500 Marines on ships off the coast, moved closer to sending soldiers ashore when the first members of a liaison team of up to 20 troops were flown in to the US embassy in Monrovia by helicopter.

    The team will set up communications between the ships and peacekeepers on the ground to prepare for a possible US deployment, if President George W. Bush gives his final approval, officials said in Washington.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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