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Violence Continues in Liberia as W. African Envoys Negotiate President's Departure - 2003-08-02


While sporadic violence continues in Liberia, west African envoys are in the capital, Monrovia, to urge President Charles Taylor to leave office soon after peacekeepers arrive in the country. Reporter Nicole Itano is on the scene and provides an update for VOA's Al Webb in London.

WEBB: Nicole Itano is in the turbulent city of Monrovia covering the situation. Nicole, could you give us an update as to what is happening now, including the diplomatic efforts that are going on to ease the route of President Charles Taylor from office.

ITANO: Well, the head of ECOWAS, which is the regional organization of west African states is here in Monrovia, stayed the night last night with several foreign ministers in hopes of meeting President Charles Taylor. They had hoped to have that meeting yesterday, but were told that Charles Taylor was in Buchanan, to supervise the war efforts there. But the meeting has been scheduled, and they are very much hoping that they will have that meeting and will be able to discuss with him the prospect of him stepping down, and also what kind of provisional government would replace him.

WEBB: Is there any reason why the session between President Taylor and the ECOWAS representatives has been delayed?

ITANO: Well, the delay was that he was out of town yesterday, or at least he was … his press people told the ECOWAS delegation that he was out of town and that he has gone to the city of Buchanan, which is the second-largest city in Liberia, which has also been, where there has also been heavy fighting over the past several days.

WEBB: In the meantime, what's the situation on the ground in Monrovia? Is there more violence going on, or is it settled down?

ITANO: There has been some sporadic violence and fighting today, especially near the two bridges that had been contested for several days now, more than a week, in fact. But the situation is calmer, there are people out on the streets, and we haven't heard any mortar or rocket attacks today. The situation is better, but there is continued fighting. Even in the past few days, by Monrovia standards relatively quiet, there has still been dozens of injured coming into the two hospitals here with bullet and mortar wounds.

WEBB: So the situation is still pretty turbulent. And the peacekeeping troops are supposed to be on the way. What is their schedule now?

ITANO: We are still being told that they should arrive on Monday, and that the first troops will be coming from Sierra Leone, consisting of a battalion of Nigerian peacekeepers who have been working Sierra Leone in peacekeeping efforts there. And they will be joined at some point by a battalion of Nigerians from Lagos as well. We also have been told that last night the United Nations passed a resolution, the Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the ECOWAS to be replaced by an international peacekeeping effort, and that unit, or those peacekeepers should arrive next month.

WEBB: In the meantime, if everything goes according to schedule, when will President Taylor leave office?

ITANO: That still is an issue of some contention. We were initially told from Accra, where the peace negotiations are going on, that Charles Taylor would be leaving within 72 hours of the peacekeepers' arriving. But there has been some hedging on that by his own people in recent days, saying that he will not step down until provisions have been made for a transitional government to replace him. According to the Liberian constitution, Charles Taylor would be replaced either by his vice president or by the president of the legislature. But again, we have not been told exactly what provisions will be made for that, and I think that is something that we are hoping will come out of the discussions between ECOWAS and President Taylor today.