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Liberian Vice President Ready to Create Unified Post-Taylor Government - 2003-08-09


The man Liberian President Charles Taylor has chosen to replace him as interim leader on Monday says he will appeal to rebel groups to create a unified post-Taylor government.

Liberian Vice President Moses Blah tells VOA that he received a phone call early Saturday from a top-level official of the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.

Mr. Blah says the LURD official told him to dismiss statements made by other LURD officials that the rebel group would continue fighting, if Liberian President Charles Taylor hands power over to Mr. Blah as planned.

"One of the authorities of LURD said that the statement from yesterday did not come from responsible persons," he said. "They are trying to appeal to me to forget about the statement, and they are on board with me. So, I'm happy to hear that."

But as recently as Saturday, various LURD officials and military commanders have told journalists that their fighters would not tolerate the vice president taking charge of the country, even for a day.

Moses Blah is a former guerrilla fighter and a long-time ally of Charles Taylor. Rebels charge that Mr. Blah will simply act as a proxy leader for Mr. Taylor in his absence.

The Liberian leader, who is due to formally hand over power to Mr. Blah on Monday, has accepted an offer of asylum from Nigeria. But Mr. Taylor, who faces an indictment before a U.N.-sanctioned court for war crimes in Sierra Leone, has not yet set a date for his departure from Liberia.

Vice President Blah insists Mr. Taylor will go as promised.

"He will leave. He will leave. He's on his way," said Moses Blah.

Still uncertain of President Taylor's plans, LURD rebels have been reluctant to withdraw from the territory they won in weeks of bloody street battles in Monrovia, including the city's vital seaport.

On Saturday, the U.S. ambassador and the commander of the ECOMIL West African peacekeeping force renewed pressure on the rebels to open the port to peacekeepers, and allow food supplies to flow into starving areas of the capital.

But rebel commander General Seyeh Sheriff says LURD will not relinquish any territory, until it is sure Charles Taylor and Moses Blah have left Liberia.

Meanwhile, fighting between government forces and other rebel factions has reportedly intensified outside of Monrovia.

Witnesses in Liberia's second largest city, Buchanan, say scores of people have been killed in the past few days.

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