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European Press Review: Taylor is a Symptom of Liberia's Chaos

European newspapers commented on the situation in Liberia, where a day after former president Charles Taylor went into exile, three U.S. warships remained off the coast waiting to move relief supplies into Monrovia.

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Exiled Liberian President Charles Taylor has promised he'll be back.

Even though its warlord president Charles Taylor has left the country, Liberia’s future is still uncertain, warned Italy's La Repubblica. "It’s not clear that the peacekeepers will succeed in preventing further clashes between the rebels and Taylor's forces. What's important to know now," wrote the paper, "is whether the White House, which insisted on Taylor's departure before it would intervene, will do more to bring peace to the country."

The Swiss daily Der Bund said the United States must intervene. "The 700 Ecowas soldiers are not enough to stabilize the situation," the paper observed, "and the Liberians are relying on America to save them." With Taylor gone, the U.S. ships off the coast of Monrovia should land, the paper suggested. "They would be heartily welcomed, and they would be able to provide protection to the population until the new administration is fully installed."

The Financial Times agreed, but thought it was not only up to the United States. A concerted diplomatic, military and financial effort also needs to come from African governments to stop Liberia from sliding into more chaos and bloodshed. As the temporary hand-over to the vice-president Moses Blah can only be a stop-gap, peace negotiators in Ghana will have to move fast to form a national unity government in preparation for fresh elections in Liberia, the paper argued. The long-term task of providing aid to rebuild Liberia’s economy must be widely shared, the paper said, and the European Union has a crucial role to play.

The editorials are divided over the question whether Taylor, like so many other African despots, will escape trial. The FT was of the opinion that while he clearly deserves it, it may now have to be accepted that he won’t be brought to account for his actions. "At the root of most of Africa’s problems," wrote Spain’s El País, is the fact that it’s mainly had tyrants and thieves as heads of state, none of whom has been held to account for his crimes. Liberia offers a chance to break this vicious circle," the paper said.

Britain’s The Independent conceded that the price of Taylor’s departure – immunity from prosecution – is contentious. "He should be held to account for the carnage in Liberia," the paper argued. But it said the choice was not between "prosecuting and not prosecuting, but between continuing civil war and starting peace, making Taylor’s immunity the better of two evils."

Holland's De Volkskrant however said it would be wrong to assume that Taylor can escape trial. "He’s already indicted for war crimes in Sierra Leone and, the paper commented, most West African politicians agree that he must eventually be tried by an international court. They just don’t believe that can happen until the conflict in Liberia has stopped."

In the meantime, Taylor is at least out of Liberia, though as Germany’s Die Welt noted, he’s promised he’ll be back. The paper opined that Taylor’s departure is not all that significant. "He was undoubtedly a problem, but he was a symptom as well as a cause of the chaos in Liberia. Underlying this chaos is a pattern of exploitation and rebellion in the country which can be traced right back to when it was founded 150 years ago by freed American slaves who," the paper suggested, "treated the indigenous people there as inferior beings."

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