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Liberian President Accepts Nigerian Asylum Offer - 2003-07-06

Liberia's embattled President Charles Taylor has accepted an offer for asylum in Nigeria. His announcement follows U.S. pressure for him to leave Liberia as part of efforts to end the four-year civil war in the west African nation which was founded by freed American slaves. Mr. Taylor did not say when he would leave.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo made the offer Sunday during talks at the airport in Liberia's capital, Monrovia.

He said his invitation was a necessary gesture for peace in Liberia.

Mr. Taylor accepted, but said his departure should be carried out in what he called orderly fashion. Tens of thousands of pro-government forces remain loyal to Mr. Taylor. Rebels control most of Liberia, but not Monrovia.

A cease-fire calling on Mr. Taylor to step down has been holding since last week.

Mr. Taylor also faces an indictment for war crimes issued by a court in Sierra Leone for his support of brutal rebels there. He has previously said there will be no peace in Liberia unless the indictment is lifted.

Sunday, both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Obasanjo avoided questions about the indictment.

But Mr. Obasanjo did pose conditions for providing Mr. Taylor safe haven. "The condition is that Nigeria, and I will not be harassed by anybody for inviting to Nigeria. Nigeria will not be harassed by anyone, or by any organization or any country for showing this humanitarian gesture and a gesture that is necessary for all to solve the problem of this country," Mr. Obasanjo said.

Mr. Taylor has previously called for U.S. peacekeepers to arrive before he leaves power so chaos can be avoided.

President Bush who visits Africa this week has called on Mr. Taylor to leave Liberia immediately, before any troops are deployed.

Sunday, Mr. Taylor said he welcomed a strong U.S. role in solving the Liberian crisis. "We believe that the participation of the United States right now is crucial in whatever way. We embrace it we accept it we invite the United States to come full force and assist in this process in bringing peace back to Liberia," Mr. Taylor said.

A U.S. assessment team will start work this week in Liberia in preparation for a possible deployment of U.S. forces in conjunction with West African peacekeepers.

Many observers believe Mr. Taylor's departure could help stabilize all of west Africa, where recent civil wars involving Liberian mercenaries have taken place in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Mr. Taylor has denied charges he has fueled instability throughout west Africa since he launched his own rebellion 15 years ago.