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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Moses Blah

Aired August 11, 2003 - 19:28   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: As he left Liberia to go into exile today, Charles Taylor handed over power to Vice President Moses Blah. Blah is promising to do all he can to bring peace to his nation. The question is, is he up to the task?
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): As much as Liberia's outgoing leader, Charles Taylor, was viewed as brutal and corrupt...

CHARLES TAYLOR, FORMER PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA: God willing, I will be back.

COOPER: The new Liberian president, Moses Blah, is said to be quiet and simple, a man who drives his own car.

MOSES BLAH, PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA: I have no interest in becoming president of this country. I just want to really (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COOPER: But Blah's ties to Taylor date back to the 1980s, when both men attended Muammar Gadhafi's training camps in Libya. Blah was alongside Taylor when he launched his first bloody insurrection in Liberia in 1989, and became a general during the eight-year-long civil war that left 200,000 people dead.

When Taylor was elected president in 1997, Blah became ambassador to Libya, and in July 2000 was appointed vice president.

But this past June, Blah's luck seemed to have run out. He was accused of plotting a coup and was detained for 10 days by his old friend, Charles Taylor. Blah denied the charges, pled loyalty to Taylor, and was released. From prisoner to president. In Liberia, what a difference a couple of months can make.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: I conducted an exclusive interview with Moses Blah a short time ago. As we've noted, Blah is a longtime associate of former President Charles Taylor. And I asked the new president how he will be different from the former president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLAH: The fact of the matter is I'm Moses Blah and President Charles Taylor is Charles Taylor, and I want to prove myself. COOPER: There are many critics who worry that Charles Taylor really is not gone. He is in Nigeria, but that basically he will be ruling through you as his proxy. What can you do to assure people that you are independent?

BLAH: That is not true. That is not true. He's gone. He would not interfere with the day-to-day activities of the Liberian government. I'm truly an independent president. I have my cabinet ministers. I have a government set up here. And we are operating on this ground and not from Nigeria.

COOPER: How will you bring peace to Liberia?

BLAH: By negotiation. We are talking. Now, I've started talking already. Believe me, you will soon see it happen.

COOPER: Mr. President, there are some 2,300 or so U.S. Marines in warships off the coast of your country. Do you want them to intervene?

BLAH: Yes, yes. I'm appealing to them. Please come to Liberia, save us, because we are dying, we are hungry.

COOPER: Former President Taylor has been indicted by the United Nations on 17 counts of war crimes relating to the civil war in Sierra Leone. Will you cooperate with the United Nations to try to bring Charles Taylor up on those charges, to have him face those charges?

BLAH: Well, it is not possible for me now, because he's in Nigeria. That (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Nigerian government to decide. I am in Liberia, and Charles Taylor is not here.

COOPER: Do you believe Charles Taylor is, in fact, guilty of war crimes?

BLAH: I don't think so. This court you are talking about in Sierra Leone, this court is a local court. It has no jurisdiction over Liberia. So, I don't know what the possibilities of grabbing Charles Taylor, the president of our country, to go to Sierra Leone to face the local court in Sierra Leone.

COOPER: What message would you want to send to President Bush?

BLAH: My message to President Bush is: Please, President Bush, come and save Liberia. We have a long, long ties. Please save us from this nightmare. We are suffering, and we are dying.

COOPER: Well, President Moses Blah, we appreciate you joining us tonight. Thank you very much.

BLAH: Thank you. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The new president of Liberia.

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