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Presidents of Liberia, Nigeria Hold Press Conference

Aired July 6, 2003 - 12:53   ET


PRES. OLUSEGUN OBASANJO, NIGERIA: ... what we thought was well happened not to be well.
And people will ask or may ask, why, again, why again? Why again is because we have an unfinished job. And it doesn't matter what sacrifices we have made in the past unless the job is finished. Those sacrifices will amount to not much.

So, we take heed that, for now, the situation in this country deserves the understanding of the world and the understanding of the people of Liberia and, particularly, the understanding of all of those in West Africa.

When we met in Ghana last month, President Charles Taylor, on his own free volition, said to us that he believes that he is not the problem of Liberia. But if people believe that he is, he was ready to make the sacrifice of stepping aside, so that those who believe that they have solution to the problem of Liberia can bring that solution about.

And that, after some time, if that solution works, he will thank God and thank the people who have made it to work, that he believe that, sooner than later, people will know that the problem of Liberia is more than Charles Taylor.

Now, we took that very seriously, and we thought that we worked out a program that will lead to gradual disengagement and change of government in this country, not knowing that an indictment was being slapped on him by the court in Sierra Leone. That disturbed us a little bit. But then we decided that, yes, even with that indictment, we must move ahead with finding a durable solution to the problem of Liberia.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the international community, because all by ourselves, alone, West African leaders, we may have the men, we may have the personnel, but we may not have adequate resources in material terms, in financial terms, to be able to do what is necessary. Because President Charles Taylor has been invited by Nigeria, and he has not hesitated to accept that invitation.

But then how does the exit take place? We believe that the exit should not take place in confusion. It should not take place in such a way that it will lead to more bloodshed. We believe that the transition should be orderly and peaceful. We believe that we all have to join hands with the people of Liberia to make the creation of peace, creation of resolution of conflict and improvement of democracy the thing that we will be able to achieve within a very, very short time.

I want to express my position to all the people of Liberia, who are bearing the brunt of the destruction, the conflict, the war, the valiance. May the soul of those who have lost their lives in the process rest in perfect peace.

That we are here as brothers, as neighbors, as those who feel that whatever is happening in Liberia today will happen anywhere in Africa, and Liberia needs a lifeline to solve its problem. (inaudible) nobody provide that lifeline. Then, any other thing we are saying, we are (inaudible).

I found that the people of Liberia are not averse to a multinational force to come in and help. And President Charles Taylor is not averse to making the sacrifice of exiting to give his country a chance of making peace.

Thank you very much.

PRES. CHARLES TAYLOR, LIBERIA: Well, I -- after hearing you, I'm not sure if there's anything much I can say. But I would just like to praise God today, today being Sunday. I'm a Christian, and my brother is, and to thank God for your safe arrival here, and I pray that God will give you a safe arrival back home.

I want to express my thanks to ECOWAS, the EU, the international community, and even more particularly to President George Bush, that apparently has remained seized of the Liberian crisis. We believe that the participation of the United States right now is crucial in whatever way. We embrace it; we accept it. We invite the United States to come full force and assist in this process in bringing peace back to Liberia.

We believe that it is not unreasonable to request that there be an orderly exit from power. We believe that this is going to help in the long run, in the short run and the medium term.

I want to thank again my brother, my big brother for coming. As he mentioned, diplomatically, he has extended an invitation. We have accepted the invitation. I think it's a matter now of making sure that it is done using our brains, that it is done properly, orderly, that no one feels disenfranchised and begins to act disorderly or disruptive in any way.

I think it is proper that we proceed gingerly and with haste, because I did understand President Bush that things must be done quickly, because as there's a window of opportunity, we accept that window and we act hastily.

I want to thank you again, my dear brother.

I want to thank the international press. We're very sorry that you have come here at this time of crisis. We hope that you had come here earlier before we had all of this rigamarole, but thank you anyway. We hope that you don't only come to Africa when you have crisis but at a time that we have peace.

Thank you very much. God bless you.

QUESTION: President Obasanjo, let me see if I get this right. Has President Taylor accepted -- he said he's accepted to come to Nigeria. Does that mean temporary exile? And if so, what are the conditions and the timeframe?

President Taylor, if the region (ph), ECOWAS, sends in peacekeepers, is that a condition for you to step down and leave?

OBASANJO: Well, for me, yes, I have extended invitation on behalf of the government and the people of Nigeria that President Taylor has a safe haven in Nigeria any time he chooses to take advantage of it. And, as you heard, he has said he has accepted.

As to conditions, maybe he would want to say that for himself. But what we have discussed today is that, as you have heard him say, it can be any time. The only thing is that it must not lead to confusion, it must not lead to violence, it must not lead to destruction. It must be smooth and orderly.

TAYLOR: If I may just add, sometimes you hear buzz words coming -- what are the conditions? I consider that word "condition," because conditionality sometimes can be harsh.

What we're talking about are necessary actions to prevent chaos and disruptions. And I think he's dealt with it, and I think we ought to leave it at that.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you, gentlemen.

OBASANJO: Now, I also want to add one condition...


... if you are talking about conditions. The condition is that Nigeria and I will not be harassed...


OBASANJO: ... by anybody.


OBASANJO: For inviting President Taylor to Nigeria, Nigeria will not be harassed by anybody or by any organization or any country for showing this humanitarian gesture...

TAYLOR: Exactly.

OBASANJO: ... and a gesture that is necessary for us to solve the problem of this country.

Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Are you insisting that ECOWAS, in your discussions, revokes or puts aside the indictment order that he said was slacked off?

OBASANJO: I'm not insisting on anything. I'm just saying that I will not subject myself or my country to harassment.

Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We've been listening to a news conference, a live news conference coming to us from Liberia, the capital city of Monrovia, where Charles Taylor, who has been the president of Liberia, a war- torn country over the last few years, meeting with the visiting president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo.

And as you heard, the Nigerians are offering Taylor asylum, allowing him to go to their country. This is the condition upon which U.S. President Bush had told Liberians that the U.S. would be willing to send in peacekeeping troops, if Charles Taylor left the country.

And he was the gentleman on the right, you saw there. He is saying he will leave the country. The only thing he says, he wants to make sure is that there is no disruption, no violence, and that it is done in an orderly way.

Obviously, many more questions to be answered in terms of what are the terms of this move, whether he will be given political asylum, whether he will still have to stand trial in any way for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone. All those questions that going to be out there, and very much we'll be seeking answers to them.


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