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New Liberian Leader Moses Blah Shares Rebel Origins with Outgoing President - 2003-08-11

Liberian Vice President Moses Blah, who is taking power Monday as President Charles Taylor steps down, entered the political arena from the same place - a Libyan guerrilla training camp.

The two men returned from Libya in 1989 as part of a 200-strong group dubbed the Special Forces Commandos, the military vanguard of Mr. Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and started a civil war.

There followed eight years of conflict, alternating with failed peace deals, until 1997 when Mr. Taylor was elected president. During the first three years of Mr. Taylor's presidency, Mr. Blah returned to Libya as Liberian ambassador, before coming home in 2000 to become a low-key vice president.

Relations between the two former comrades in arms became strained in recent months. In June, Mr. Taylor was forced to flee a conference of West African leaders in Ghana to avoid an international arrest warrant issued by the U.N.-mandated war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone. He accused his vice president of plotting to overthrow him. Mr. Blah was held under house arrest for several days, before leaders from the two men's home region of Nimba prevailed upon the president to let him go. The truth behind the allegations remains a mystery.