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11 August 2003

U.S. Welcomes Charles Taylor's Departure from Liberia

State's Reeker says move was essential to restoring peace

The United States is pleased with Liberian President Charles Taylor's resignation and departure from the country August 11, State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker said at that day's department press briefing.

Reeker said Taylor's resignation and departure were essential to restoring peace in Liberia. Calling the humanitarian situation in the country "very dire," Reeker said "the key issue now is humanitarian aid and delivery of humanitarian aid."

He noted that ships and international organizations are in position to begin the delivery process and said U.S. officials continue to be "in very close touch and contact with the Nigerian ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] forces that are there."

Asked whether the United States was considering sending any more of its military personnel into Liberia, Reeker said "I don't have any announcements for you, but we do have the liaison team on the ground in Liberia keeping in close touch with the Nigerians as part of the ECOWAS force and we continue to look at the situation very closely." Reeker pointed out that President Bush has ordered U.S. Marine troop ships "to move closer to the Liberian Coast so he has all his options available."

Following is an excerpt on Liberia from the Reeker briefing:

(begin excerpt)

MR. REEKER: Let me just say we are pleased with the developments today in Liberia. Charles Taylor formally resigned in ceremonies earlier today and he has departed Liberia, as I think we all watched on the satellite television. We welcome these developments.

We are very pleased that the Economic Community of West African States, that is, the ECOWAS, with support of the United Nations, of the international community and of the United States has succeeded in putting in place a peaceful and constitutional transition of government in Monrovia. We look forward to continuing to work with ECOWAS to develop a governmental process leading to elections. We continue to work with ECOWAS at the United Nations to increase the size of the international force and to prepare for the blue-helmeted, the United Nations force, as mandated under UN Resolution 1497.

As you know, the United States has been providing liaison and logistics support through a team on the ground in Liberia. The key issue now is humanitarian aid and delivery of humanitarian aid. Ships and international organizations are in position to begin that process and we are continuing to be in very close touch and contact with the Nigerian ECOWAS forces that are there.

We are urging all parties to the conflict to continue to cooperate with the West African forces. And as I said, while in Monrovia, we have seen some fighting has seemed to subside, the humanitarian situation is very dire and that's why that remains the priority. So we are watching this very, very closely as things evolve, and we have just seen these recent developments with Taylor's departure.

QUESTION: What does Taylor's departure mean, if anything, for the United States?

MR. REEKER: Well, it is certainly something that we had called for that we wanted to see. It was an important part of the process. The resignation and departure from Liberia of Taylor is essential to restoring peace in Liberia. As I think you all know, Charles Taylor has been the catalyst for violence for some time in the region, and so his departure is something that we welcome.

And now we are working, as you know, as I said, with the West African countries, with the United Nations, with others in the international community, to set about dealing with this humanitarian situation, and also continuing this process of peaceful transition of government in Monrovia, as I mentioned, with a look toward elections down the road.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. Government had any contact with President Blah?

MR. REEKER: I know that our Embassy is active on the ground. I don't know specifically what conversations we have had with the new President Blah, who took over that office upon Taylor's resignation earlier today. But obviously, we will be continuing our contacts with his government, as we do continue contacts with other parties involved in this, including in the talks that are ongoing in Ghana that are focused on how we can move ahead in the process of transition, but also pressing all of the parties involved in the conflict to make sure that a peace agreement and a ceasefire can remain in place to allow the humanitarian assistance to address the very pressing needs of the Liberian population.

Yes, Tammy.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any concerns with Vice President Blah having assumed the helm there?

MR. REEKER: This is part of a transition. And as I said at the beginning, we welcome this development that the ECOWAS, that is, the West African States, with the support of the United States, of the international community, with the UN resolution that was passed on August the 1st, we have seen a peaceful, constitutional transition of government taking place in Monrovia and through the talks in Accra, and working with all of the parties involved, as I have just described.

We are going to look to continue that: continue the ceasefire, continue the transition, so that we can have elections down the road; but, most importantly, to allow the international community, the nongovernmental organizations, to take the crucial steps needed to alleviate the humanitarian situation which has become quite dire.

Liberia still?

Yeah, Adi.

QUESTION: The Special Court is saying now the onus is on the international community to put pressure on Nigeria to work out some sort of arrangement, so that Mr. Taylor does face this indictment. What is the United States' position on this indictment?

And before, the answer from the State Department officials was, "This is a matter to be worked out between Nigeria and Mr. Taylor." Has that position changed at all? Do you plan to apply any diplomatic pressure on?

MR. REEKER: It really was a matter, as the Secretary said, for Charles Taylor to work out with the Special Court in Sierra Leone. This is something he is going to have to answer to, and it's for him to address with the international court. And so we have supported the Special Court, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and that is where the matter resides. And now that he has left Liberia, it is going to be a matter that he will need to address with that Special Court.

Anything else on Liberia? Liberia?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. REEKER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say, or do you have a response to Mr. Taylor's remarks yesterday that the rebels were acting on behalf of the United States?

MR. REEKER: I think that is clearly not at all the case.

I'll stick with what I said earlier, that we have been working with others in the international community, with the West African states in the region, to see an end to all violence and hostility and hold to a ceasefire, and that included the process to get Charles Taylor out of the country.

Charles Taylor was certainly a catalyst to violence throughout the region for his years there on the stage, and so we welcome this development. And now we are saying to all parties involved that they need to work together through this process to continue a peaceful transition to end this violence that has plagued Liberia and created such a horrific humanitarian situation for the people of Liberia; concentrate on building new opportunities for the people of Liberia, first and foremost, by allowing the humanitarian aid and support, which we have contributed and others in the international community are contributing, allow that to get in to relieve the very urgent situation, and then continue to work towards a process that will lead to free and fair elections.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. REEKER: Anything else on Liberia? One more from our friend.

QUESTION: Will there any consideration now of additional U.S. military personnel going in?

MR. REEKER: Obviously, we keep in close touch with the Nigerians on the ground.

As you know, the President had instructed the Iwo Jima group to move closer to the Liberian Coast so he has all his options available. I don't have any announcements for you, but we do have the liaison team on the ground in Liberia keeping in close touch with the Nigerians as part of the ECOWAS force and we continue to look at the situation very closely.

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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