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Liberian Rebel Leader Doubts Taylor Will Leave Voluntarily - 2003-08-07


The head of Liberia's main rebel movement says he would support dropping war crime charges against President Charles Taylor, if that would convince him to leave the country as promised. But rebel leader Sekou Damate Conneh has told French media he doubts Mr. Taylor will leave voluntarily.

In an interview broadcast Thursday by Radio France International, Mr. Conneh said he strongly doubts Mr. Taylor will ever leave power, except by force. But he said his rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD - would support dropping of U.N. war crimes charges against Mr. Taylor, if that would help.

The war crimes charges are related to Mr. Taylor's support for rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone, not to Liberia's own 14-year civil war.

Mr. Conneh's remarks were published as President Taylor's spokesman said he would not appear in Liberia's parliament Thursday as expected to formally announce his plan to resign next week. Mr. Taylor previously agreed to resign next Monday, under pressure from West African countries that are deploying a peacekeeping force to Liberia.

The rebels have welcomed that plan, although they are skeptical. And they say the president must also leave the country, or the war will go on.

In a separate interview with France's Le Figaro newspaper, Mr. Conneh said Mr. Taylor is not ready for peace. The rebel leader warned that, if Mr. Taylor is allowed to stay in Liberia, he might try to wage a guerrilla war for years to come from the bush.

Mr. Conneh also told Le Figaro his forces have accepted in principle a demand by the U.S. ambassador to Liberia that his own rebel forces leave the country's capital, Monrovia. But, he said, they will only do so after the West African peacekeepers are deployed in the city, and Mr. Taylor leaves.

In addition, Mr. Conneh rejected the Liberian government's plan for vice president Moses Blah to take power if President Taylor resigns. He said the Liberian constitution, which provides for such a scenario, is a fraud because it was created by Mr. Taylor.

He also dismissed speculation that he himself might run for president.

The Liberian rebel described his trip to Paris as a private visit. He said he has not been able to meet with French officials, although he has asked to do so.

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