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Taylor says he will cede authority within 10 days


MONROVIA, Liberia - President Charles Taylor offered last night the most specific timetable for his promised departure. Rebels here also said they had ordered their troops to stop attacks, after four days of shelling and gunfire that the government estimated had killed more than 600 people.

It was unclear whether the rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, was aware of Taylor's latest departure plans, which he disclosed in a telephone interview.

The larger mystery was whether either side's declarations were credible.

Taylor, who announced more than six weeks ago his intention to leave the country, has repeatedly amended his plans. So too has the rebel faction, whose goal is to depose Taylor, announced cease-fires and said it would stop assaults on the city, only to continue.

Though less intense than the nonstop assault Monday, fighting continued throughout yesterday. Mortar rounds began pounding the capital's diplomatic neighborhood in the afternoon, killing at least two people across the street from the U.S. Embassy, including a mother holding her child.

Last night, in a telephone interview arranged by an American evangelist, the Rev. K.A. Paul, whom Taylor described as "my religious leader" and who also took part in the interview, Taylor said he would step aside "within 10 days."

He said he would hand power to the speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives, Yundueh Monorkomna. Taylor said he would make the formal announcement Saturday, a national holiday here.

Taylor has made a number of announcements about his exit. He said July 7 in a interview with The New York Times that he would leave his country for a brief "cooling-off period" but return to take part in politics.

Later, his spokesman said he was under pressure from supporters at home to remain in Liberia. Taylor has also insisted he would not step down until foreign peacekeepers come.

In the telephone interview last night, he did not respond to a question about whether the arrival of foreign peacekeepers was still a condition for leaving. Nor did he specify whether he would only step aside from the presidency or leave the country altogether.

He has already accepted an offer of asylum in Nigeria, but last night Paul said negotiations were also under way with Ghana and Chad.

Taylor said he could be trusted to fulfill this pledge because he had made a commitment to Paul, a Christian evangelist based in Houston.

Paul visited Monrovia last week at the invitation of several religious leaders from Liberia. Born in India, he preaches at rallies around the world and draws large audiences in India and in some African countries.

He said he had first met Taylor last week and prayed with him for several nights in the president's "prayer room" in his home in Monrovia.

Paul said, "I believe this man is genuinely committed to me, and he will step down in my presence."

In Ghana, where Liberian peace talks are ostensibly continuing, rebel leaders announced yesterday afternoon that they had ordered their troops to stop attacking. Whether they would abide by anything resembling a cease-fire remained unclear.

It was impossible for Monrovia residents to tell yesterday where the shelling was coming from and who was responsible.

The defense minister, Daniel Chea, charged the rebels with shelling the innocent, chastised the international community for "bickering" over how to help, and demanded a suspension of a United Nations arms embargo on Liberia.

The U.N. Security Council had imposed sanctions over Taylor's role in supporting a rebel movement in neighboring Sierra Leone. He has since been charged with crimes against humanity by a U.N.-backed tribunal in that country.

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