Liberia's Taylor to accept exile offer

President Charles Taylor of Liberia accepted an offer yesterday of political asylum in Nigeria but he indicated that he would not leave until a US-led peacekeeping force was in place in the country.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Nigeria's President, Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr Taylor thanked his "big brother" for coming to the Liberian capital, Monrovia. "He has extended an invitation and we have accepted an invitation," the Liberian Presidentsaid.

But in a pointed reminder to President George Bush, who arrives in Africa tomorrow, he gave no time-frame for his departure, declaring that "it is not unreasonable to request that there be an orderly exit from power".

Mr Taylor thus seemed to be repeating his previous position ­ that he would not leave until an international peacekeeping force, headed by the United States, had moved in.

Mr Bush, who insists that the crisis cannot be resolved unless Mr Taylor steps down, sent a team of about two dozen American specialists to Monrovia yesterday to "assess" the situation there.

But the Bush administration is divided on the peacekeeping mission. While the State Department favours the move, the Pentagon says that the commitment of even 1,000 troops could dangerously overstretch the US military, which already has about 150,000 men stationed in Iraq and a further 10,000 in Afghanistan.

The crisis in Liberia, where rebels are closing in on the capital after three years of fighting, is complicated by the Mr Taylor's indictment on war crimes charges by a United Nations-backed court in neighbouring Sierra Leone. It is not clear whether these charges would be dropped if he agreed to go into exile.