Liberian leader agrees to go as fighting in city intensifies

Ending a bizarre game of hide-and-seek in war-torn Monrovia, Liberia's President Charles Taylor finally sat down yesterday with regional representatives demanding his resignation, and promised to step down next Monday.

"On Monday [11 August], I will step down and the new guy will have to be sworn in," Mr Taylor told journalists after the meeting in his mansion by the Atlantic. He refused to say when he would leave Liberia, as he has promised to do previously. His departure has been demanded by President George Bush as well as west African leaders.

"The most important thing is, everything that we have said about resigning and leaving will happen," Mr Taylor said.

On Friday he dodged the high-powered delegation from neighbouring west African countries. Military commanders said Mr Taylor had gone to the front-line 90 miles away in Buchanan, Liberia's second city, although according to some reports he had been in Monrovia all along. But instead of leaving, as Mr Taylor might have hoped, the envoys stayed the night in Monrovia, where heavy fighting again erupted.

As he received the delegation yesterday, the embattled President shook hands with Mohamed Ibn Chambas of the regional Ecowas bloc. Ecowas insisted that Mr Taylor should leave office after a 1,500-strong Nigerian-led peace-keeping mission starts deploying tomorrow, though he has obtained a week's grace. The unusually forceful message from his west African peers is the result of sustained Western pressure and a growing consensus that his departure is the key to stability in Liberia.

As the leaders met, fighting intensified on the streets. The government launched an all-out offensive on the key bridges that have been the focus of combat over the past two months.

According to reports, the attack could signal a government drive to retake the port area of the capital, which rebels have held for the past two weeks. Since the port is also Monrovia's main supply line, any force that holds it will have greater leverage with the arriving peace-keepers.

But there are also signs that what little discipline exists among Mr Taylor's unruly, drugged-up militia forces is starting to break down. On Friday a gunfight erupted near one of the bridges between Sierra Leonean fighters and their Liberian comrades, who said the clash was sparked by rising tensions between the two factions.

The Sierra Leoneans are among thousands of young gunmen who roam west Africa in search of war, the product of Mr Taylor's meddling in foreign conflicts. Some came to Liberia on the heels of Sam Bockarie, a Sierra Leonean war criminal known as "Mosquito", who died violently earlier this year.

Yesterday the "Death Row Crew", a teenage militia in trademark yellow T-shirts, carried the body of a fallen comrade to Monrovia's deserted cemetery.

At the cemetery, the fighters cowered by the roadside as gunfire crackled a few hundred yards up the street. Once it cleared, they hoisted the body into a hastily prepared grave. One fighter led a short prayer: "This is our brother lying here, and he is gone. We pray we will meet him in the Kingdom of Paradise. Dust to Dust. Amen."

Fears are growing about how Mr Taylor's fighters will react when he finally goes. The President has repeatedly warned that chaos and bloodshed will follow in his wake.

Under current plans, about 300 Nigerians will land in Monrovia tomorrow, followed by a much larger contingent, including troops from Ghana, Senegal and Mali.

The Africans will receive some support -- although it is unclear what kind -- from a force of 2,000 American troops sailing in west African waters. A fleet of three US warships was scheduled to anchor off Liberia yesterday. President Bush has said they will play a "support" role to the west African force.

The Liberia mission is hotly debated in Washington. Many Republicans feel the US is already thinly stretched in Afghanistan and Iraq, while black Americans are calling for a muscular intervention.

The juxtaposition of pictures of further civilian atrocities in Monrovia with images of immobile ships stationed offshore could have a powerful mobilising impact on US public opinion.

Sources say it is for this reason that the State Department, which favours intervention, and the Pentagon are debating about whether the ships should be anchored within sight of the coast.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Senior Sales Broker - OTE £100,000

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportuni...

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor