Fighting continues in Liberia despite Taylor promise

 

Fighting in Liberia has not receded despite President Charles Taylor's promise yesterday to relinquish power just hours before African peacekeeping troops are due to deploy.

Under pressure from the United States to leave and hemmed in by rebels bent on removing the former warlord, Taylor chose the sixth anniversary of his inauguration as Liberia's president to say he would resign on August 11.

No date has been set for Taylor's departure from the country, something President George W. Bush has said needs to happen for Liberia to find peace after nearly 14-years of civil war, and a goal the rebels have been fighting for three years to attain.

"The most important thing is that everything that we have said about resigning and leaving will happen," Taylor told reporters when asked what date he would leave the country.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and thousands more displaced during the last two weeks of fighting between rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and Taylor loyalists.

The president insists he will honour his pledge to leave Liberia once peacekeeping troops have deployed. A first wave of 300 Nigerian soldiers will fly into Monrovia on Monday, followed by nearly 500 more during the following week.

At a West African summit in Ghana on Thursday, African leaders gave Taylor a deadline to depart 72 hours after the deployment, but the visiting officials in Monrovia avoided giving a date.

A Taylor stalwart said having a few West African troops holed up at the airport was not the kind of force to end the war, so it was not clear when the deployment as such would be over.

Looking relaxed in a dark suit and gold-rimmed sunglasses, Taylor said he expected 2,500 troops to come initially and for the force to climb to 5,000 thereafter, the kind of numbers needed to cope with "any eventualities".