Bush urges Taylor to step down quickly


President George W. Bush believed Liberian President Charles Taylor's pledge today to step down was encouraging and urged him to do so quickly, White House spokesman Mr Ari Fleischer said.

Mr Fleischer said Bush had not yet decided whether to send US peacekeeping troops to war-torn Liberia, but left open the possibility a decision could come this weekend.

Mr Taylor's departure has been called essential for peace by Mr Bush, who visits Africa next week and is mulling sending troops to help end nearly 14 years of non-stop violence in Liberia.

"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," Mr Fleischer said.

Mr Bush has ordered the Pentagon to send a team of experts to West Africa to work with the United Nations and other countries in the region on what is needed to achieve stability in Liberia, Mr Fleischer said.

The assessment team would do preliminary planning in the event US peacekeepers are sent. "Certainly, if the president were to decide that troops should be sent, it's important to do all the proper due diligence that must come first, before troops are sent," he said.

MR Taylor, who has an indictment against him from a United Nations-backed court prosecuting war crimes, has been under growing pressure to quit since some 700 people were killed last month in rebel attacks on Monrovia. The insurgents hold nearly two-thirds of a country founded more than 150 years ago by freed American slaves.

Mr Taylor told religious leaders at the presidential mansion in Monrovia he had agreed to step down, but urged the world to send peacekeepers to prevent chaos in the aftermath.

"I see myself as stepping down to turn over to a transitional regime. I have no problem with that. Any time, any day," he said. A senior official in regional giant Nigeria said Mr Taylor had accepted an offer of asylum.