Secretary of State Colin Powell says if Liberian President Charles Taylor steps down and leaves the country for Nigeria, as expected in a few days, it would not free him from responsibility for answering war crimes charges in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor is reiterating his intention to step down as Liberian president but still wants immunity from prosecution by the U.N.-backed special court for Sierra Leone.
However at a news conference for the foreign media in Washington Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that even if he heeds international calls to leave the country, Mr. Taylor should still face the war crimes charges.
"If Mr. Taylor leaves Liberia, as we expect him to do in the very near future, and is given asylum in Nigeria, this does not remove the indictment in any way," he stressed. "It then becomes a matter between Mr. Taylor and the Sierra Leonian tribunal, the U.N. tribunal for Sierra Leone. And we support the indictment. He certainly has allegations against him which I think clearly warrant him appearing before that tribunal."
In the indictment, made public in June, the Sierra Leone court indicted Mr. Taylor as one of those bearing the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in that country's 10-year civil war, which saw thousands of people killed, maimed and kidnapped by Revolutionary United Front rebels supported by Liberia.
Mr. Taylor's representatives have asked the International Court of Justice at the Hague to quash the indictment on grounds that he has immunity from prosecution as a head of state.
Mr. Taylor told U.S. television interviewers Thursday he would address the nation Sunday and resign in favor of his vice president, Moses Blah, the next day. However, he was not specific about when he would leave the country.
In an appearance in Texas, White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said that sensitive discussions were underway between Mr. Taylor and several African leaders, who she said were unanimous in their insistence that he not only must step down but also leave the country.