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Charles Taylor Still Involved in Liberian Affairs, says UN Official - 2003-09-18

The special U.N. representative for Liberia says exiled former President Charles Taylor is still meddling in Liberian affairs.

Interviewed by telephone from Washington, the U.N. special representative for Liberia, Jacques Klein, said former President Taylor has not retired quietly. "Taylor is still meddling in the politics of Liberia. As we have always said, Taylor with a cell phone is a government in exile," he added.

And according to Mr. Klein, the former president's involvement goes beyond telephone calls. "The evidence is that several ministers have visited him in Nigeria, that three or four businessmen have visited him in Nigeria," he points out. "We know that from sources within Monrovia, that he is on the telephone to people in Monrovia threatening them, demanding pay-offs."

In a telephone interview from Monrovia, the Liberian information minister, Reginald Goodridge, denied that the former president is playing any kind of inappropriate role in Liberia. "President Taylor has not made any kind of public announcement, or anything like that," he said. "I can tell you that President Blah is the man in charge here, and he is doing everything to work with the peacekeepers to ensure that the transition comes about on October 14."

Mr. Goodridge also sees no reason that what he called Mr. Taylor's old friends should not visit him in Nigeria.

Mr. Klein's reaction: "Well, I think that is just about as disingenuous a statement as you are [one is] likely to make."

According to Liberia expert Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, the U.N. charges are no surprise. "It must be very difficult for Charles Taylor to disengage from Liberia and Liberian politics. And his influence is still very visible there. I mean many business enterprises in Liberia are joint enterprises," he said. "Even at a commercial level, his presence is still very much felt in Liberia today."

Mr. Vines says it is important for the Liberian peace process that Charles Taylor is fully disengaged from day to day activities in the country.

The situation remains tense in Liberia, where West African peacekeepers have been trying to disarm rebel groups and restore order and the flow of humanitarian aid.