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Liberian President Ready for US Peacekeepers - 2003-06-29

Liberian President Charles Taylor says he is ready to invite U.S. troops to help end a four-year civil war in the West African nation which was founded by freed American slaves. He made the comment amid mounting calls for an international peacekeeping force in Liberia, following a decision Friday by rebels to call for a cease-fire. In a "victory" speech Saturday on a bridge recently retaken by his forces, Mr. Taylor said he was looking into ways to invite U.S. troops in to bring peace.

He repeated the message in an interview with CNN television.

"This government is not hostile to the United States," he said, "and I think the United States ought to come in now using my strength, my popularity and my legitimacy and work and bring peace to Liberia."

Mr. Taylor also acknowledged a call from U.S. President George W. Bush for his immediate resignation to avoid further bloodshed. But the Liberian leader said "certain benchmarks" must be ensured before he steps down.

These include having a war crimes indictment against him lifted at a special court in Sierra Leone and guarantees for the safety of his supporters. Mr. Taylor has repeatedly said peace efforts will fail in Liberia unless the indictment issued earlier this month by the United Nations-backed court is removed.

Mr. Taylor has been accused of supporting rebels throughout West Africa, while smuggling weapons, diamonds and timber, charges he denies. Liberia has had 15 years of nearly continuous civil war since Mr. Taylor launched his rebellion in 1989 and then won elections in 1997.

European diplomats, West African mediators and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan have all called for international peacekeepers in Liberia, following the latest round of fighting in Monrovia in which hundreds of civilians were killed.

Rebels who control most of Liberia called a new cease-fire Friday after being pushed back from certain parts of the capital. They said they called the halt because they wanted to spare Monrovia residents from further suffering.

An earlier cease-fire called for a transitional government without Mr. Taylor, but it was broken when the Liberian president refused to resign, saying he intended to stay in power until his elected term expires in January.

A spokesman for the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, Bodioh Siapoe, says Liberians should sort out their own problems, without U.S. help.

"Why should Americans go to Liberia to shed blood for their freedom?" he asked. "Americans would be killed. You have got the LURD taking care of business and one would think that Liberians would rally around LURD telling them to minimize atrocities of civilians, but to go after the target who is the assumed war criminal Charles Taylor."

Many Liberians fear fighting will soon resume in the capital if an international force is not sent quickly. They believe the rebels are simply regrouping to prepare another attack.