- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The White House yesterday rejected Liberian President Charles Taylor’s demand that his departure would require a massive, 10-year rebuilding effort led by the United States and said the former warlord must leave immediately.

“We’ve made clear that Charles Taylor needs to leave,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. “We’ve made that very clear.”

A senior administration official said the United States will not acquiesce to Mr. Taylor’s demand but is open to his conditional departure, which may be facilitated by a Nigerian offer of asylum. On the other hand, the official made clear that Mr. Taylor is not in a position to set out conditions for his departure.

Mr. Taylor, trained by Col. Moammar Gadhafi in Libya in the 1980s, was indicted for war crimes last month for purportedly ordering murder, rape, abduction and the mutilations of thousands of people by hacking off their arms and legs. This week, he demanded a long-term commitment by the United States before he would depart.

“I’m looking at anywhere from between 3,000 to 5,000 United States troops, coupled with maybe 5,000 to 10,000 troops from the United Nations,” Mr. Taylor told Fox News on Monday. “We’re going to need 10 years of real, on-the-site working with Liberia to get this thing going, so we’re going to need a lot of United States troops.”

The Liberian president dismissed as “a joke” a commitment of anything less than 3,000 American troops and a long-term exercise in nation building.

“We are not looking for any short time, Band-Aid approach from the United States,” he said. “You’ve got to come in here full blast. Not just 500 troops or 1,000.”

Mr. Taylor said the U.S. effort needs to involve “ground troops, Army Corps of Engineers, financial experts, economists, the whole ball of wax.”

But President Bush made clear on Monday that while the United States planned to help, any U.S. effort would be limited in scope and scale.

“Any commitment we have would be limited in size and limited in tenure. Our job would be to help facilitate an ECOWAS presence, which would then be converted into a U.N. peacekeeping mission,” Mr. Bush said after holding talks with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the White House.

Mr. Bush emphasized that any assistance would be conditional on Mr. Taylor’s departure from Liberia, which was founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves.

Some U.N. officials believe a U.S. intervention would require about six months, but U.S. sources say they doubt Mr. Bush would let U.S. troops stay in Liberia that long.

Liberia’s main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, yesterday urged the United States to send an “overwhelming” force into the country and “flex its muscles” to push Mr. Taylor into exile.

“The overwhelming presence of the U.S. troops in Liberia before the arrival of West African peacekeepers is highly desirable,” Kabineh Ja’neh, a spokesman for the rebel group, told Agence France-Presse from Ghana. “The earlier the better.”

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) last week pledged to send up to 1,500 soldiers to the Liberian capital of Monrovia, but did not specify a date.

Nigeria, the military powerhouse of West Africa, yesterday said it has 750 troops ready for deployment in Liberia.

“Nigeria has pledged to send two battalions for the operation. We are ready to move anytime,” Col. Chukwuemeka Onwuamaegbu, an army spokesman, said in Lagos.

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