Taylor told the world leaders who pushed him to resign to take the “opportunity to help the people of Liberia.”
Taylor surrendered power to Vice President Moses Blah, who was sworn in as president during a ceremony in the capital city of Monrovia.
The U.S. and African leaders have repeatedly called on the former Liberian leader, who has backed out on previous promises to resign, to leave the country and let an international peacekeeping force assume responsibility for key portions of the country’s security.
“History will be kind to me. I have fulfilled my duties,” Taylor said during the resignation ceremony, adding, “I have accepted this role as the sacrificial lamb … I am the whipping boy.”
“I leave you with these parting words: God willing, I will be back,” he said.
Taylor left the capital for the airport and later departed Liberia aboard a Nigerian airplane. He arrived in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja late Monday afternoon.
Liberian rebel groups had threatened to continue their military campaign in Monrovia unless Taylor left the country immediately. Officials made Taylor’s resignation a key condition to a cease-fire between pro-Taylor militias and the two main rebel groups in the country: the Liberians United for Reconciliation (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL).
The fighting has left thousands dead and, in recent weeks, hundreds of thousands without food.
With Taylor’s departure, top rebel leaders said their military campaign would end.
“For us in LURD, the war is over,” Sekou Fofana, a top rebel official said in Monrovia Monday. “Once he leaves Liberia today we are not going to fight. The suffering of Liberians is over.”
Rebel leaders appeared ready to recognize Blah’s authority, but want a neutral interim government established as soon as possible. The LURD and MODEL rebel groups currently control roughly 60 percent of Liberia.
“Let the nation begin to heal,” Blah after his appointment, according to the Associated Press. “Let all of us unite as one people and work to peace.”
Street celebrations were reported throughout the country in the wake of Taylor’s resignation. Liberians said they hoped his departure combined with an international peacekeeping force would end years of bloodshed.
“I can hardly believe it. He has brought too much suffering on the Liberian people,” Henry Philips a former security official, told the AP. “His absence is better than his presence.”
South African President Thabo Mbeki and Ghanaian President John Kufuor and other African leaders traveled to Liberia to observe Taylor’s departure.
“Today’s ceremony marks the end of an era in Liberia,” Kufuor said, speaking as head of a West African bloc that has sent peacekeepers to Liberia. “It is our expectation that today the war in Liberia has ended.”
Some 3,250 West African soldiers are expected to act as a peacekeeping force in Liberia. In addition, some 2,300 American soldiers are located in warships off the Liberian coast, although it is unclear whether the soldiers would be deployed as part of the peacekeeping effort.
The U.S. ambassador was expected to hold an important meeting with rebel leaders Monday, according to Reuters.
“I think everyone is aware of the humanitarian crisis Liberia faces. One of the keys to helping Liberian people is to get access to the port,” Ambassador John Blaney told reporters.
Wire services reported that three U.S. warships approached the Liberian coast within hours of Taylor’s formal resignation.
On Sunday, Taylor angrily accused the United States of conspiring against him, calling the conflict an “American war” and accusing the LURD rebel group of being a surrogate force for U.S. interests.
“I have decided to leave because for the first time in the history, almost, of the world, the U.S. is using food and other things as a weapon against the Liberian people,” Taylor said in the address, according to the BBC.
Taylor faces charges from a special United Nations-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone, which ruled that he bears the “greatest responsibility” for war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of international humanitarian law during Sierra Leone’s brutal 10-year civil war.