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Background: Liberian Changeover

August 11, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: First, the change in Liberia. We start with a report on the departure today of President Charles Taylor. The correspondent is Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

SPOKESMAN: Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce the arrival of his excellence, the president of Liberia and his special guests.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Today African leaders gathered to see Taylor off. Accompanied by a choir, they held a bizarre ceremony for a man who has caused wars across West Africa.

WOMAN: Oh, God, we’re finished.

LINDSEY HILSUM: This is his legacy, a people terrorized, impoverished, desperate. Hundreds of thousands of Liberians were killed by his drunken and drugged forces when he was a warlord. Tens of thousands more in the six years he’s been president, and he’s been indicted by the U.N. for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone. But today, the African leaders who forced him out indulged his insatiable appetite for self- aggrandizement.

CHARLES TAYLOR: History will be kind to me. I have fulfilled my duties. I see myself as during the days when Jesus was taken before the high priest Caifhus. You know, Jesus was without sin and the high priest looked at him as if it may be expedient that you should die. And now because Jesus died, we are saved today. I want to be the sacrificial lamb. I am the whipping boy.

SPOKESPERSON: To the best of my ability…

LINDSEY HILSUM: As Taylor bowed out, his deputy Moses Blah was sworn in as president.

SPOKESPERSON: I hereby declare you as the 22nd president of the republic of Liberia.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Under a deal brokered by the African states, supported by the Americans, he’s to govern until October. Rebels in Monrovia listened to the news of the handover on the radio. Their leaders say they’ll stop fighting now, but Liberia’s problems won’t end with the departure of Charles Taylor. The rebels and the Nigerian peacekeepers who have recently arrived also have a reputation for brutality, theft, and rape. Today American warships were sighted off the coast. The U.S. said it might send forces after Taylor went into exile, and most Liberians believe only American soldiers can bring peace. At the airport they were waiting for the ceremony to end and for Taylor to fly to Nigeria where he’s been offered asylum. The Nigerians say they won’t hand him over to Sierra Leone’s war crimes tribunal.

CHARLES TAYLOR: I leave you with these parting words: God willing, I will be back. God bless you.