BUCHANAN, LIBERIA, JUNE 6 -- Rebel leader Charles Taylor, whose forces are attempting to overthrow the 10-year rule of President Samuel Doe, has outlined a future for Liberia under his rule that calls for democratic elections, free enterprise and a nonaligned foreign policy, but with continued financial reliance on the United States and other Western countries.
Taylor's troops claimed to be pushing toward Monrovia, the capital, today, and they said they controlled both the international airport, 30 miles from Monrovia, and the adjacent Bridgestone-Firestone Inc. rubber plantation. Government spokesmen denied these claims, the Reuter news agency reported, but they were generally corroborated by diplomats and other sources.
The rebels acknowledged today, however, that a strategist of theirs, Elmer Johnson, a former U.S. Army sergeant, had been killed by government forces Sunday, along with seven other rebels.
Taylor said in a recent interview in this port city, which was seized by his National Patriotic Front of Liberia insurgents on May 19, that "we are not communists and this is not a Marxist-Leninist system."
"There is no plan to change the form of government," said Taylor, 42, who holds a degree in economics from Bentley College in Waltham, Mass. "My plan is to take over the reins and clear up the government and country."
The rebels launched their rebellion in December to overthrow Doe, whom Taylor accuses of human rights violations and destruction of Liberia's economy.
Taylor also denied that he has received outside assistance, although some of his rebels said they had received training from Libyans and other foreigners.
"We did not come into this as a bunch of hired guns," Taylor said. "There are accusations that we received arms from Libya and Burkina Faso. We have received no assistance from foreign countries."
He said his men were using weapons captured from the Liberian army, which had bought arms from Romania last year. The rebels carry an assortment of light weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles, U.S-made M-16s and World War II Italian submachine guns. A few carry rocket-launchers.
Several members of his elite commando group, estimated at 400 men, said that they were trained by Libyans. They said they did not know the location of the training camp, but some have picked up simple words of Arabic. Other forces said they were trained in the Ivory Coast, but it was not clear whether this was done at clandestine rebel camps or with the participation of the Ivory Coast government.
Taylor said that when Doe is removed from power, the Patriotic Front intends to hold elections, but he did not give a date. "We are going to the ballot box and will permit opposition groups in all districts of the country to operate," he said. "We will set a time and schedule for this."
His group wants to create a nonaligned Liberia, Taylor said, but he foresaw continuing good relations with the United States. "The United States is a big brother, father, uncle and friend to Liberia. We are also going to seek good relations with other Western countries including France, West Germany, Britain and Japan," he said.
He added that Liberia would need help to rebuild its economy after 10 years of Doe's rule.
Taylor held ministerial rank as director of the General Service Administration, the purchasing department in the Doe government, but fled Liberia in 1983 when Doe accused him of embezzling $1 million.
The body of rebel military adviser Johnson was found on the outskirts of Buchanan today. He had been missing since Sunday when his group of 25 rebels were caught in a Liberian army ambush. The body was discovered near the road leading from Buchanan toward the capital's Robertsfield International Airport, 40 miles away.
Johnson, 33, a Liberian citizen, served for six years in the U.S. Army and took part in the 1983 invasion of Grenada. He spent 18 years in the United States and was educated there, according to rebel sources.
In 1984, Johnson took part in an abortive coup against the Doe regime. He lost his left eye in a shoot-out and was imprisoned for 12 months before being released after a general amnesty was declared following pressure from the U.S. government, said Samuel Dokie, a political adviser to Taylor.
The loss of Johnson is a blow to the rebel force, Dokie acknowledged, but he said it would only serve to strengthen their resolve. He said the Patriotic Front has other advisers comparable to Johnson.