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U.S. to Send Military Experts to West Africa, Taylor Offers to Resign

BY Admin  July 4, 2003 at 5:37 PM EDT

Within hours, the U.S. announced it would dispatch military experts to West Africa to gauge how to stabilize the region.

Taylor, who reneged on a pledge to step down as a part of a cease-fire pact last month, said his forces were no longer fighting for territory but instead trying to stabilize the country.

“I’m not fighting to stay in power. What I am fighting for right now is that there would be such a normal transition that anger, frustration and other things don’t creep in,” Taylor said.

He stressed he would not step down until he knew that an international force, possibly headed by or heavily involving U.S. troops, had arrived in the war-torn capital of Monrovia.

“The important thing here is for international peacekeepers to come to Liberia as quickly as possible to take charge of the situation if I am going to step down,” Taylor told reporters outside the presidential mansion, warning that if they did not it “could be extremely chaotic.”

Although it remained unclear if the U.S. would participate, let alone lead, any peacekeeping mission, Taylor said his government would not oppose the Americans.

“I welcome and will embrace the presence of American troops in Liberia. I think it will be essential for stability,” he said.

Military chiefs from nearby countries have pledged as many as 3,000 troops to bring peace to the West African nation but have said they hope for substantial contributions from the United States and South Africa.

But some experts have warned that any armed force that moves to bring peace between the two warring factions in Liberia faces a daunting task.

“If you’re talking about putting yourself between these forces, you have a recipe for a bloody mess,” Ross Herbert, an American analyst with the South African Institute of International Affairs, told The Associated Press.

Although the U.S. has not made any decision on the deployment of American troops, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer announced Friday that the president was sending a team of military experts to “work with nations in the area” to assess how to bring stability to the country.

In the U.S., White House officials said the president welcomed the statement by Taylor but that it needed to be followed by action.

“The president urges Mr. Taylor to back up his encouraging words with deeds so that stability of the region can be achieved, so that peace can become effective, so that the lives of the Liberian people and the region can be improved,” Fleischer said Friday.

Taylor said he did not know if the U.S. would require his departure before their arrival in Liberia.

“I don’t understand why the United States government would insist that I be absent before its soldiers arrive,” Taylor told a meeting of Liberian clerics. “It makes a lot of sense for peacekeepers to arrive in this city before I transit.”

Regional leaders have also tried to encourage Taylor to leave. Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo talked with Taylor Friday and discussed offering him temporary asylum if he steps down, Nigerian government spokeswoman Remi Oyo told the AP.

Taylor’s departure from Liberia is complicated by the fact that he stands indicted of war crimes for his role in the bloody civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. A United Nations-backed court has issued a call for Taylor’s arrest and extradition to Sierra Leone to face criminal charges.

Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves in 1847, has been wracked by civil war for much of the last 14 years. From 1989 to 1996, Liberian warlords battled for control of the country. At the end of that war, Charles Taylor emerged as the strongest militia leader and rode that position into the office of the president.

For three tense years, the country avoided war, but in 1999, reinvigorated rebel groups launched a new war. Many regional experts said that Taylor’s repressive rule helped empower and spark the new rebellion, which has raged ever since.

The rebel groups have pushed back Taylor’s militiamen to the edge of the capital, Monrovia. The fighting has killed tens of thousands and has forced more than 3 million from their homes.