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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 August, 2003, 06:43 GMT 07:43 UK
US poised to aid Liberia

A crowd gathers on the beach to look at one of three US warships off the Liberian coast, 11 August 2003.
There are about 3,000 US marines on the warships
United States forces off the Liberian coast are poised to help move relief supplies out of Monrovia's rebel-held port, a day after former President Charles Taylor went into exile in Nigeria.

Three American warships could be seen off the coast for the first time as Mr Taylor left the country, boosting hopes that US forces would aid Nigerian peacekeepers.

Mr Taylor - who handed over power at a ceremony in Monrovia on Monday - arrived early on Tuesday in the southeastern Nigerian city of Calabar, where he has been offered an exile home.

US President George W Bush welcomed his exit, calling it "an important step toward a better future for the Liberian people".

Tens of thousands of people in Monrovia have been isolated by weeks of fighting, while a humanitarian crisis has also been reported by the International Red Cross in the port city of Buchanan, to the east.

God willing, I will be back
Charles Taylor

The US has still not committed to sending the marines ashore. But Secretary of State Colin Powell said that on Tuesday the commander of the US task force would meet the US ambassador in Monrovia, the commander of the West African peacekeeping force and the head of the Lurd (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) rebels.

"This is the time for all of the parties to commit themselves to a ceasefire, commit themselves to peace and let us begin the task of relieving the suffering that has afflicted the Liberian people for so long," Mr Powell said.

UN role

The United Nations has said it will return to Liberia on Tuesday to resume humanitarian operations if the security situation permits.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan hoped Mr Taylor's departure would "at last mark the beginning of the end of the long nightmare of the Liberian people," Mr Annan's spokesman said.

The rise and fall of Liberia's Charles Taylor.

Meanwhile, Liberia's interim President Moses Blah - a close aide of Mr Taylor - has appealed for reconciliation and urged rebel groups to "work with us so that the people of Liberia can know peace".

Mr Blah - who was sworn in as Mr Taylor's successor on Monday - is set to rule Liberia until October, when a government of national unity currently being negotiated at peace talks in Ghana is due to take over.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Monrovia says that Mr Blah has struck a conciliatory tone in his first speech after taking charge of a caretaker government and the onus is now on the rebels to play their part.

Our correspondent also says that in the wake of Mr Taylor's departure, a heavy responsibility will fall on the West African peacekeepers in Monrovia.

Humanitarian aid

Celebrations erupted in Monrovia on Monday as Mr Taylor relinquished power.

Mr Taylor's supporters wept as he boarded the Nigerian-bound plane, waving goodbye with a white handkerchief.

The former warlord, pressed to resign by Washington and by West African leaders, adopted a defiant tone as he left office, describing himself as a "sacrificial lamb".

"History will be kind to me. I know I have fulfilled my duties," he said.

"God willing, I will be back," Mr Taylor added.

Mr Taylor, who is wanted for war crimes in Sierra Leone, has taken up Nigeria's offer of asylum.

He was greeted on his arrival in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, by President Olusegun Obasanjo, and is now in Calabar, where he will live in a hilltop mansion.

"Taylor needs to reconstruct himself," Mr Obasanjo said.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Lagos says the Nigerian authorities are hoping he will accept a quiet retirement and one well away from the limelight.

The BBC's Linden Kemkaran
"For now the people of Liberia are just concerned with celebrating their new and fragile peace"


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