Embattled President Charles Taylor urged the US to send peacekeepers as part of a plan in which he would step down and go into asylum in Nigeria. However, he gave no time frame for quitting and insisted the transition must be orderly.
The calls Thursday by Taylor and Nigeria's leader for a peaceful transition in Liberia increase pressure on US President George W. Bush to send US troops to enforce a cease-fire in the war-ravaged West African nation. Bush headed to Africa yesterday for visits to five nations -- including Nigeria, the top powerbroker in West Africa.
A team of about a dozen US military experts headed to Liberia early yesterday to begin assessing whether to deploy troops as part of a regional force, as the UN, European powers and the Liberians have sought.
Taylor is under intense international pressure to step down -- Bush said Saturday he would "not take `no' for an answer" -- and is holed up in a capital surrounded by rebels. But he has insisted peacekeepers deploy before he will go to ensure fighting does not erupt again.
Another complication is the threat of trial on war crimes charges that hangs over Taylor's head after his indictment by a UN-backed court in Sierra Leone.
Taylor made his announcement after Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo met him at Monrovia's airport to personally offer asylum in his country.
"I thank my big brother for coming," Taylor said. "He has extended an invitation and we have accepted an invitation."
But, Taylor said, "It is not unreasonable to request that there be an orderly exit from power." He said that US participation in an international peacekeeping force planned for Liberia was "crucial in every way."
"We embrace it. We accept it," he said of the possibility of US involvement in a peacekeeping mission.
Taylor and Obasanjo would not say when the Liberian president would step down, but Obasanjo said "We believe that it will not take place in the near future." Both warned that too hasty a departure could spark new fighting in the West African nation, where hundreds were killed in a failed rebel push into the capital last month.
"We believe the exit should not take place in confusion ... in a way that will lead to more bloodshed," Obasanjo said. "We believe the transition should be orderly and peaceful." He said that the peacekeepers' deployment should take place "in a very, very short time."
Though Taylor did not specify whether the deployment of a peacekeeping force was a condition for his departure, he said it was "necessary ... to prevent disruption."
The UN, several European powers and most Liberians want the US to lead the peacekeeping mission. West African leaders have put up 3,000 troops for a force.
Obasanjo, whose nation led a peacekeeping contingent during Liberia's 1989-96 civil war, before Taylor was elected the following year, said "international support" was required for a Liberian peacekeeping mission, saying West African nations had the military "manpower" to stop the fighting but lacked the funds.