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Liberia's President Visits Conflict Areas - 2002-07-10


President Taylor’s surprise visit to the western Liberian towns of Po-River and Klay began early Monday afternoon. Dressed in a military outfit, the President drove without the usual siren that accompanies his motorcade. However, he was accompanied by dozens of heavily armed government troops.

This was the President’s first visit to Klay since the battle between Government forces and rebels fighting to overthrow him began more than three years ago.

Speaking to reporters upon arrival in Klay, President Taylor said the visit was intended to allay the fears of civilians that rebels were planning to take Monrovia, the country’s capital.

This is why he says he could not attend the meeting of African Leaders in the South African city of Durban to formally inaugurate the African Union.

Mr. Taylor said “This month July makes it four years since terrorists entered this country, burning villages, raping women, killing people-civilians, innocent women and children. And I’ve stayed here today to be with my people. This revolution is my life. So I could not leave in the wake of all the rumors that Monrovia would be attacked”.

Klay, which is 36 kilometers west of the Liberian capital, Monrovia is just 30 kilometers away from Tubmanburg where officials here say serious fighting is taking place between government and rebel forces.

A Western journalist in the rebel controlled territory says Tubmanburg is under the complete control of LURD rebels.

But President Taylor says the area will soon be retaken. “My General commanding the front, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Yenten has assured me that within seventy-two hours, Bomi will be cleared, and we’re going to chase these terrorists out of this region to bring some relief to our people.”

President Taylor expressed regret over the recent evacuation of United Nations personnel from the Monrovia suburb of Virgina following the reports of an imminent rebel attack on the area.

He warned that the government will punish anyone who harbors suspected rebels. He said those linked to rebel activities will not be tried by a civilian court but rather a military court, because according to him, they are illegal combatants.

Human rights lawyers have for the past several weeks tried in vain to compel the government to bring to court journalist Hassan Bility and others accused of plotting to assassinate President Taylor.

Meanwhile, Liberian opposition and rebel leaders have been meeting in Burkina Faso's capital in a bid to find common ground on how to move Liberia forward.

There are wide differences between the strategies proposed by the armed and unarmed opposition to bring about political change in Liberia.

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