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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 August, 2003, 05:51 GMT 06:51 UK
Taylor 'hesitant to leave Liberia'
Liberian President Charles Taylor
President Taylor has pledged to stand down after 11 August
Pressure is mounting on Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down and leave, as West African peacekeepers continue to arrive in the war-torn country.

Mr Taylor had agreed to quit office and Liberia to end the fighting, but he appears to be having second thoughts amid a dramatic improvement in the atmosphere in the capital, Monrovia.

South African President Thabo Mbeki said on Tuesday that Mr Taylor told him by telephone that he would leave for Nigeria within a day of standing down on 11 August.

But a senior official in Nigeria - which is providing the first peacekeeping troops sent to Liberia - said Mr Taylor now appeared unwilling to accept Nigeria's offer of asylum.

It appears he [Taylor] is imposing fresh conditions...
Nigerian president's spokesman
The United States - which has three warships stationed off the Liberian coast - has stepped up the pressure on Mr Taylor to leave.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "Our position is, first things first, he needs to leave the country. That's what our focus is. He needs to leave the country."

The Americans say they will not send peacekeepers to Liberia until Mr Taylor is gone.

However US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday approved the deployment of a small American military liaison team.

A Pentagon official said the team of six to 10 US soldiers could arrive in Monrovia as early as Wednesday.

Their mission will be to work alongside West African troops and work out how a larger US force could assist them.

Fresh conditions

On Tuesday, the head of the West African peacekeeping force crossed the frontline for the first time, and held talks with the rebels - who launched their latest attempt to capture Monrovia in June.

The rebels said aid agencies could come into the areas under their control, but added that they would not withdraw from the port area until Mr Taylor leaves.

FORCE FOR LIBERIA
First of 1,500 Nigerian troops arrived on Monday
2,000 West African troops to follow
UN stabilisation force to be deployed by 1 Oct

Over the weekend, Mr Taylor said he would stand down in favour of his vice president, Moses Blah, but did not say whether he would take up Nigeria's offer of asylum.

But in Nigeria itself, an aide to President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Tuesday that the Liberian president now had reservations about the offer.

"It appears he is imposing fresh conditions," Stanley Macebu told AFP. "That matter will obviously be looked into."

In Monrovia, a presidential spokesman said Mr Taylor - who has been indicted for war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone - should be shielded from prosecution.

But US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in Washington that there was no suggestion that charges against Mr Taylor might be dropped.

"Everyone except that individual seemed to feel it would be best for the country if he would leave," Mr Rumsfeld added.

More aid needed

As more Nigerian soldiers arrived in Monrovia on Tuesday, hundreds of Liberians turned up to cheer them.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips says the troops' arrival has brought a dramatic improvement in the Liberian capital.

Streets that had been empty for days suddenly bustled with people looking for food, our correspondent said.

On Tuesday government fighters were seen embracing rebels gunmen on one of the bridges that had been the front line of the conflict.

But, our correspondent adds, people want the Nigerians to move on and start patrolling on the streets of Monrovia.

Meanwhile, the United Nations, is launching a new aid appeal for Liberia on Wednesday.

It is requesting almost $70m to assist provide food, shelter, medical care and assistance to around one million people affected by the fighting.

The UN says the number of people who have fled fighting in and around the capital Monrovia has almost doubled since June.

It says the health risks are immense, with more than a million people in Monrovia now exposed to diseases like malaria, pneumonia, cholera and measles.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Barnaby Phillips reports from Monrovia
"The rebels say they will not leave Monrovia's port until Charles Taylor has gone"



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