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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Liberian President Charles Taylor

Aired August 7, 2003 - 20:41   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The subject now, Liberia. West African peacekeeping forces were cheered today as they arrived in Liberia's capital city of Monrovia. Thousands of civilians danced and waved at the 400 troops, as that convoy made its way through the battle-scarred city.
Liberian President Charles Taylor joins me now from the capital of Monrovia in this exclusive interview tonight.

Mr. President, welcome.

My first question to you, sir, is, when do you plan to leave your country?

CHARLES TAYLOR, PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA: Very good question. Everyone keeps asking me when am I going to leave my country. Nobody has ever asked President Bush whether he asked me to leave. I think maybe you should ask him whether he asked me to leave. It's still a secret of whether I'm going to leave. I can assure you that I'll be here not one minute longer than necessary. My movement is a matter of security. But it will happen sooner than later.

ZAHN: All right. Will you, as reported, step down on Monday, and then at some point after that head to Nigeria?

TAYLOR: I will be stepping down on Monday. I said to the world and the Liberian people on the 4th of June that for the sake of peace, and because I love my people, I will step down and give peace a chance. I will do that on Monday. Then I'll leave thereafter.

ZAHN: Is the United States guaranteeing you a safe passage to Nigeria?

TAYLOR: Is your question suggesting that there is an obstacle?

ZAHN: No.

TAYLOR: To ask, are they guaranteeing me a safe passage -- well, maybe you know something that I do not know. I am not a fugitive from justice. So the issue of safe passage, I do not think it should be a question. I expect to hand over power and leave Liberia, and go to Nigeria. And I do not think that I should be harassed about passage, being safe or not.

ZAHN: So you do not expect any problems, then, with your retreat from Liberia and your trip into Nigeria? TAYLOR: Well, I'll put it this way. The only situation confronting me in this republic is that of an indictment from a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) union court. May I just state to you that our court is not a chapter-saving (ph) court in the issue of reciprocity, and Nigeria has chosen to ignore that court, and I will be going to Nigeria.

I have, however, filed papers in the International Court of Justice challenging the legitimacy of that court, and its jurisdiction over a sitting president of Liberia.

ZAHN: There are a lot of questions being asked about what kind of deal you might have cut with Nigeria to get asylum. Can you tell us on the record tonight whether you are able to go to Nigeria, and whether your expectation is that any of the war crime indictments will be dropped against you?

TAYLOR: Well, I think, Paula, it would be normal for these indictments to be dropped. The reason being, we have a situation right now in Belgium, President Bush and others were indicted. They've since been -- the Belgian parliament has moved, and have passed a law that would remove them from that particular situation.

There were no deals struck with Nigeria. President Mobasango (ph) and other African leaders of the African Union and ECOWAS have all seen the political nature of this case. They've looked at it, and have seen that as African brothers, they ought to help a situation in Liberia where I have volunteered to step down.

They see no reason why I should be harassed, and have gone ahead to ask me to come to Nigeria. I Will go to Nigeria, God willing, and while I'm there, I expect that this issue will be dealt with.

However, I have not waited for that. I've just said that we've filed papers, both in the court in Sierra Leone, and in the International Court of Justice, challenging the jurisdiction and legitimacy of this court.

ZAHN: Did the United States government offer you anything that sped up your leaving your country?

TAYLOR: Does the United States government talk to anyone? I've spoken to no one at the State Department or the Bush government. All I have heard from the Bush administration are pronouncements on CNN and other television stations. There's been no contact whatsoever.

I hope it was different. But for some reason, I guess they've had all the facts. It needed no explanation from my government. We have not been asked to give one, and we have not been given an opportunity

I hope that, you know, that will change some day when the facts are known. Maybe 20 years from now, when we review the Freedom of Information Act, using that in reviewing the records, someone would see that I just got a raw deal. ZAHN: President Taylor, finally tonight, we have been reporting all day long that Black Hawk helicopters landed with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) seven U.S. Marines. Is it your expectation that there will be more U.S. Marines in your capital city soon?

TAYLOR: Yes. I would hope so. I would hope so. Look, Liberia and the United States are (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We serve as the longest ally on the continent of Africa. We hope Africa, all of the hoopla about the trip to Africa, the Bush administration can seriously look at what they intend to do in Liberia.

We welcome them in Liberia. As president, I've welcomed them. I do not think whatever that United States soldier will have any problems in Liberia.

I hope President Bush and the Bush administration will seize this moment in time and in history to do something constructive for the Liberian people and the Liberian nation. We Liberians feel that they owe it to us. They ought to do something for us. Over 156 years, they've really done nothing.

We want to get out the camera, and all the news, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) shot news strips, and get down to seriously looking at the reconstruction of Liberia, and economic construct, social construct, a political construct that the Liberian people will say, Well, our president took it all. He became the fall guy. He took off. He left office. And we would like to see the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) dividends.

We're looking forward, and I think this is a challenge to President Bush, and I guess, from what I can see as a man of God, I expect that he will live up to this challenge and do something for the Liberian people.

ZAHN: President Charles Taylor, thank you for your time this evening.

Just a quick rejoinder, as a reminder of what the Bush administration has been saying all along, they have accused Mr. Taylor of being one of the instigators of the civil war that has claimed more than 200,000 lives, created up to 1 million refugees, and shattered Liberia's infrastructure.

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