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Newsnight Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Liberia president interview

Rebels pounded Liberia's capital during two all-out battles for the city in June. Both times they took the suburbs before pulling back for cease-fires.

This was fierce even by the standards of Liberia's long conflict which is almost a decade and a half old.

These rebels are trying to overthrow President Charles Taylor who took power the same way, leading his rebel movement into the capital.

President Taylor told the BBC's Africa Correspondent Paul Welsh that these new forces are backed and supported by foreign countries, including Britain and America.

CHARLES TAYLOR: (President of Liberia)
It is in a mess, and Britain helped to create the mess. I have British arms that I seized from the rebels. This mess is created by a self-fulfilling prophecy. They wrote the script and they wanted to see it work, and they made it work, and so the government have been punished. I have been punished. Everything has been done to make sure that the self-fulfilling prophecy worked.

So it's nothing to do with the fact that you brought an armed force over the border in '89?

Nothing to do with that. Nothing to do with that.

Even a few weeks ago, this was unthinkable, people on the streets of the capital calling for President Taylor to go. He's repeating his promise he will leave when the peacekeepers arrive, but he may come back to stand for election again. The rebels are heavily armed and outgun the government, who have UN sanctions against them. These exclusive pictures were taken by a cameraman who travelled with them as they moved through Liberia. But it's not the only country which has gone this way. The whole region has been destabilised and the world blames Charles Taylor. He has been indicted for war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone? What did I do in Sierra Leone?

The special court there, who you know have been...

We know it's politically motivated.

They say that you worked directly with the IUF leadership. You gave them guidance, you gave them direction, you gave them financial support, military training, personnel, arms, ammunition and other support and encouragement.

Can't you indict a house rat? You can indict a house rat.

Not for supplying trained personnel and arms.

A country with a budget of $60m can't do that. Let's forget all of the things. I'm watching the British parliament right now with Tony Blair before the parliament, talking about the dossier, and it was all right. These things can all be written. They are scripts. They can be written. Let's not deal with that. The fact of the matter is, this government and Charles Taylor could have never done that.

If you are innocent of what the...

I am innocent. Not "if". I am.

You say you're innocent. Are you not tempted to go and prove your innocence in the court, then?

One can look at various temptations. President George Bush and other senior officials of the United States Government are indicted for war crimes in a Belgian court. Does it make sense for them to appear there and exonerate themselves? There is something called politically motivated actions that we have to be very careful with, and no-one expects for President Bush to go into Belgium because it's all nonsense. I back what Donald Rumsfeld says, it's all foolishness. So what's good for Peter is not good for Paul.

There is a huge welcome for the small force of Americans already here to decide what could and should be done to help. The Liberian people are begging more to follow quickly. The White House says it will be days before a decision is made. The few already here have surveyed the sea port and the airport with humanitarian and military missions in mind. But Liberia's president warns them the fragile peace may not hold much longer.

They had better come now. We want them to come now to prevent any further disturbances here. As soon as they are in here, what other reason would I want to hang around here? Do not be afraid about American boys getting hurt in Liberia. I can guarantee, no matter where I am, that Liberians will never fire a pistol at an American soldier here, because we want them here, because we feel left out.

A quarter of a million people who fled the fighting in the suburbs of the capital are now living rough. In all, a third of the population have been displaced by the long war. It's made this the poorest country in the world. The fighting may have stopped briefly, but without peacekeepers and peace talks the quiet is unlikely to last long. The human cost of the final battle would be huge.

Newsnight can be seen on BBC Two at 2230 BST 2130 GMT, or in Real video, either live or on demand, by clicking on the latest programme button.

Paul Welsh
interviews Liberian President Charles Taylor
See also:

11 Jul 03 | Africa

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