Global Policy Forum

Liberia’s Taylor Arrested, Awaiting Handover

China View
March 29, 2006

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who disappeared from his residence in southeastern Nigeria one day ago, was on Wednesday detained in a state bordering Cameroon and could be expelled soon to his homeland. A top government official who asked not to be named said Taylor, wanted for war crimes by a UN-backed special court in Sierra Leone, was arrested in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno, bordering Cameroon, Niger and Lake Chad.

Information Minister Frank Nweke told reporters in Abuja that President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is due to meet President George W. Bush on Wednesday, had "ordered the immediate repatriation of Charles Taylor to Liberia." The U.S. government, which has been pressing for Taylor's handover in the past two years, said on Tuesday it's Nigeria's responsibility to see that Taylor "is conveyed to the special court for Sierra Leone." The United Nations is also scheduled to hold a meeting later in the day.

"Taylor's convoy was intercepted by vigilant Nigerian immigration officers at about 6:30 a.m. (0530 GMT) while attempting to slip out of the country," the official News Agency of Nigeria quoted Malam Mohammed Bello, a controller of immigration in Borno, as saying. Bello said Taylor, in company of his wife and clad in a white traditional flowing gown "Agbada" without a cap, was intercepted while driving in a golden jeep with "Ambassador" on its plate number. "A convoy was escorting the former warlord when they were intercepted, but that the escort escaped arrest, leaving Taylor and his wife," he added.

Following Taylor's announced disappearance on Tuesday, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo immediately ordered the arrest of all the security personnel deployed to protect him at his residence in the southeastern city of Calabar.

Taylor has been living in Nigeria since August 2003 when he accepted Nigeria's offer of safe exile as part of a deal, backed by the U.S. government, to end Liberia's 14-year-old civil war that killed about 250,000 people, about eight percent of the west African country's population. But by then, Taylor had been indicted on 17 counts by the special court in Sierra Leone, for crimes against humanity and war crimes for fueling the civil war there, when he allegedly supported rebels against the Sierra Leonean government in return for "bloody diamonds."

Nigeria, which initially vowed to protect Taylor with all its might, chose to agree to hand him over to a democratically-elected government of Liberia in late 2004, under the pressure of the U.S. government. At the weekend, Obasanjo told Liberia's new leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that "Liberia is free to take former president Charles Taylor into its custody," but Johnson-Sirleaf wants her predecessor sent directly to the special court. Meanwhile, Obasanjo dismissed a request from the court to arrest Taylor to prevent his escape. His spokeswoman Oyo said that Taylor "is not a prisoner" and free to leave.

Public reaction to Taylor's extradition has been mixed. Many Liberians want him face the war crimes court in Sierra Leone while some, mostly those considered his loyalists, are opposing his handover to the court on grounds that he may not get a fair hearing. There have also been suspicion threats that his loyalists could cause trouble in Liberia should he be handed over to the court. Some of individuals believed to be his loyalists were picked recently for questioning, but security personnel in Monrovia, capital of Liberia, have reportedly been tight-lipped on the issue.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on Charles Taylor
More Information on a Special Court for Sierra Leone
More Information on Liberia


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