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Last Updated: Friday, 4 July, 2003, 19:14 GMT 20:14 UK
Liberia leader offers to go
Anti-Taylor demonstrators
The UN has suggested that Taylor may go to Nigeria

Liberia President Charles Taylor says he will step down but only when an international peacekeeping force has been deployed.

His declaration was welcomed by the United States, which has urged Mr Taylor to leave the country for the sake of peace.

The White House is sending a team of military experts to assess whether deploying US troops will restore order to the war-torn country and has indicated it may be flexible about Mr Taylor's departure.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since fighting broke out between government troops and rebels, and aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis.

A week-long ceasefire looked to have broken down on Friday when rebel commanders reported fresh fighting in the north of the country.

In other developments:

  • A 3,000-strong intervention force is agreed by military chiefs from the West African regional body Ecowas.

  • The World Health Organisation makes an urgent appeal for funds and supplies to tackle a serious outbreak of cholera and other diseases among the 200,000 people living rough.

    Liberians are desperate for an end to over a decade of conflict

  • A ship chartered by the United Nations is taking 350 refugees from Liberia back home to Sierra Leone. The UN says it will continue to operate the service while the ceasefire holds.

  • Talks between the government and rebel groups resume in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, with mediators setting a target of 15 July for a transitional government.

  • Nigeria dismisses reports that it has already offered asylum for Mr Taylor saying President Olusegun Obasanjo is still looking into the matter.

Hundreds of people marched in Monrovia on Thursday calling for Mr Taylor to go. The unprecedented protest has put further pressure on the Liberian leader, who has been indicted for war crimes by a UN-backed court in Sierra Leone.

He told religious leaders in Monrovia on Friday that he would resign earlier than his previous deadline of next January, when his term of office expires. But he insisted peacekeepers should be in place to prevent chaos in the aftermath.

'Unprovoked attack'

"I don't understand why the United States Government would insist that I be absent before its soldiers arrive," he said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr Taylor needed to "back up his encouraging words with deeds", but left open the possibility of US flexibility over his departure

CHARLES TAYLOR
Charles Taylor
Indicted on war crimes charges
Under UN sanctions
Former warlord
Won 1997 elections

"If it's true, the exact timing will be developed in due course," he said.

Mr Fleischer said President Bush's decision on whether to send troops would not be guided by the "artificial deadline" of his trip to Africa, which is due to start on Monday.

Liberia was founded by freed American slaves and both West African leaders and United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan have urged the US to lead the force.

But with US forces already deployed in large numbers in Afghanistan and Iraq, senior White House officials are said to be divided on the issue.

There has been talk of sending a small contingent of 500 to 2,000 troops as the core of a broader, mainly African, force.

Hopes of a permanent ceasefire appeared to fade on Friday when the national chairman of Liberian rebel group Lurd said his troops were attacked by government forces near Zorzor town on the border with Guinea.

Sekou Damate Conneh accused Charles Taylor of trying to gain as much territory as possible before the arrival of peacekeepers and urged the international community to get involved.

"We want peace in our country and we are observing the ceasefire," he told BBC's Focus on Africa.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Doyle
"At least 5000 Sierra Leonian refugees want to leave Liberia"


Dr Ibn Chambas, ECOWAS Chairman on Focus on Africa
"I believe the United States will rise up to this occasion"



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