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Liberians Mark First Anniversary of Taylor's Exile - 2004-08-11

Liberians are celebrating the first anniversary of former president Charles Taylor's flight into exile, which effectively ended the two-decade civil war in the west African nation.

Liberian citizens gathered Wednesday, to celebrate what is being termed a year of peace on the anniversary of Mr. Taylor's exile to Nigeria.

A former commander of the rebel faction, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, General Joe Wylie says the feeling is mixed because, while Liberians are happy that Mr. Taylor has left, the memories of the civil war linger.

"I think Liberia, one year after Taylor, is better today than where we were last year by this time," he said. "Last year by this time, people were running helter skelter. People were being killed. People were hungry. Children were crying in the rain and now, today, people are rebuilding schools. Children are in schools. Of course, we haven't gotten back to our pre-war status of normalcy yet. But at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel that we are seeing and we are going to run and go after that light. We don't want to go back into the past."

More than 1,000 rebels from General Wylie's former faction have refused to disarm and have taken over Liberia's second largest rubber plantation. General Wylie says training the former combatants to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society is key to maintaining peace in the nation.

Although more than 50,000 fighters have gone through a U.N. disarmament process, less than half have handed over actual weapons.

A former commander with the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, General Boi Blehju Boi says people are beginning to rebuild their lives but the transitional government needs to honor its promises.

"The improvements on electricity and water have not yet commenced. We were told since the sitting of the government that electricity and water would be revitalized but up to now people are still buying their own generators and we are drinking from wells and other mineral water from shops and supermarkets," he said.

Mr. Taylor now lives in the southeastern Nigerian town of Calabar. A U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone has indicted him for war crimes, but Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has refused to violate his commitment to grant Mr. Taylor asylum. General Boi says Mr. Taylor should go to Sierra Leone and defend himself against the charges levied against him.