Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Chance for peace

Liberia: Taylor gone

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, on Monday, finally stepped down from 14 chaotic years of leadership in the war-torn West African nation founded by former American slaves, but not without some petty parting shots.

Amazingly, he painted himself as the fall guy in the mess he is responsible for creating: "History will be kind to me. I have fulfilled my duties. I have accepted this role as the sacrificial lamb ... I am the whipping boy," Taylor said in a farewell speech..

This is not unexpected from Taylor, whose regime brutalized the people of Liberia for years and supported murderous rebel forces in Sierra Leone. He is an indicted war criminal and it was well past time for him to go.

After his farewell speech, Taylor boarded an airplane, reportedly headed for exile in Nigeria. He left a country of 3 million in turmoil.

The Bush administration and other West African nations had repeatedly pressured Taylor to step down in order to end years of fighting. This war has killed an estimated 150,000 Liberians, including 1,000 civilians in the past two months.

Leaders of the rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, said fighting would stop when Taylor left.

They must keep their word. With Taylor's ouster, Liberia needs to look torward to a more peaceful future, and America has a significant responsibility in helping to make that happen. There are questions about whether a ceasefire can become lasting peace.

Taylor's immediate replacement is his vice president, Moses Blah, a long-time ally. Blah must be willing to negotiate with rebel opposition forces to form a coalition government between warring parties.

Important humanitarian aid must come from the United States, which has more than 2,000 troops stationed off the Liberian Coast. A 3,250-member West African peace-keeping force has moved into the Liberian capital of Monrovia.

Founded in 1847 by freed American slaves, Liberia is important to the United States, strategically and economically. Our histories are linked, and it's in America's best interest to help stabilize the country and help restore its democratic model, which is based on that of the United States.

With Taylor gone, that process should start right now.

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