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Liberian President Wants Indictment Dropped Before He Goes into Exile - 2003-08-03

Liberian President Charles Taylor has agreed to relinquish power on August 11, but no date has been set for when he will go into exile, probably in Nigeria. President Taylor says he first wants an indictment for war crimes dropped.

After meetings with representatives from the regional body ECOWAS, President Charles Taylor has set the moment for his exit from power: Monday, August 11.

But rebels who have been waging a campaign against President Taylor want him out of the country, not just out of office. International pressure, led by the United States, also is calling for Mr. Taylor to get out of Liberia.

Nigeria has offered President Taylor asylum, but he wants an indictment for war crimes charges in Sierra Leone to be dropped first.

In a telephone interview Sunday, Defense Minister Daniel Chea told VOA that President Taylor needs to be free to find another future. "For this man not to put up a fight and to agree of his own volition to give up power, I think is something worth everybody's commendation. But beyond that, we all do know that the indictment against President Taylor was more or less politically motivated. So saying he has made this big political overture, I think it's only fair enough that those who brought such indictments rebuild the indictments on Mr. Taylor. Because he is leaving the country, he has to be a free man to find another future," Mr. Chea said.

Rebel leaders are not of the same opinion. One rebel spokesman, General Joe Wylie, spoke to VOA from Accra Sunday. General Wylie believes Mr. Taylor has no intention of leaving Liberia. "Mr. Taylor has said he would leave, but he is doing things that suggest to us that he does not intend to leave the country, which is very important for there to be peace in our country.... This man is gambling. He is gambling with his own life. He is gambling with the lives of the Liberian people," he said.

The deployment of regional peacekeepers is scheduled to begin Monday with the arrival of 1,500 Nigerian troops. Both Defense Minister Chea and General Wylie say they will welcome the peacekeeping forces in Liberia.

But the conflict goes on, and gunfire is still being heard on the front lines, with each side blaming the other for the continued fighting.