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Liberia Rebel Chief, Citing Safety, Says He Won’t Attend Peace Talks

From Reuters

Rebel chief Charles Taylor, apparently fearing assassination, announced that he will not attend long-awaited Liberian peace talks that were scheduled to begin Friday.

“To be deep in the heart of Monrovia is not conducive for me personally,” Taylor said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in rebel-held Gbarnga, 160 miles from the Liberian capital.

But he told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he is in constant touch by telephone, fax and radio with the senior delegation he sent to the conference.

“So I will be in control but my own personal security is at stake,” he told the BBC.

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Taylor’s participation was considered crucial to the conference, which is charged with picking a new interim government to steer the West African country to elections.

Monrovia is controlled by a Nigerian-led peacekeeping force that Taylor has called an occupation army.

After 15 months of civil war, the shattered city is also home to two anti-Taylor militias led by Prince Johnson and Gen. Hezekiah Bowen.

Conference organizers, the 16-nation Economic Community of West African states, invited leaders of the warring factions, established political parties and 14 associations to the talks.

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