- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

BOSTON (AP) — Indicted for war crimes, his country torn by civil conflict, and poised to go into exile, Liberian President Charles Taylor is at the center of a gripping international drama.

But he was once just a young man with an unremarkable name who pumped gas, worked in a plastics factory and studied at a Massachusetts college.

He also earned his share of notoriety by becoming the only person to escape from the Plymouth County jail and not be caught.

The Liberian-born Mr. Taylor, now 55, spent the 1970s in Boston, earning an economics degree from Bentley College in Waltham in 1977 and working as an activist on Liberian issues.

Delores Adighibe of Boston said she lived in the same apartment building as Mr. Taylor for about five years in the early 1970s, when both were students at Bentley. She described Mr. Taylor as “political and generous.”

“He was very big-hearted, very giving, but extremely political and concerned about Liberia,” she said. “We were all very active.”

Miss Adighibe, who is co-chairman of the Liberian Community Association of Massachusetts, said she has been disappointed with Mr. Taylor since he was elected the country’s president in 1997.

“I think greed took him … overpowered him,” she said.

She spoke as President Bush, embarking on a five-day tour of Africa, is demanding that Mr. Taylor relinquish power.

Mohammed Kromah, 53, of Baltimore said he remembered Mr. Taylor from when the two worked together as activists in the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas during the 1970s, trying to inform the world of what was happening in Liberia.

Mr. Kromah, now president of the organization, said he and many of Mr. Taylor’s friends are disappointed with Mr. Taylor’s tenure as president. He was articulate and idealistic during his six years in power, but achieved little, Mr. Kromah said.

“There’s not a single thing in the country that you can proudly say that ‘Mr. Taylor did this,’” he said. “It’s a waste, a vacuum, an emptiness in Liberian history.”

Mr. Taylor, who was raised in a suburb of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, went back to Liberia in 1979 after a regime change. He won a top job in the new government of Samuel Doe, but was charged with embezzling $1 million as head of Liberia’s General Services Administration.

Mr. Taylor fled to the United States, but he was arrested and incarcerated in the Plymouth County jail.

On Sept. 15, 1985, he cut through bars with a hacksaw and climbed down a knotted sheet to gain his freedom, avoiding extradition and trial in his home country.

Back in Liberia, Mr. Taylor led rebels against Mr. Doe in a bloody conflict that killed hundreds of thousands in the late ‘80s. Acknowledged as the country’s strongest warlord, he was elected president 1997. But rebels have been fighting for three years to oust him.

Mr. Taylor has been indicted by a U.N.-backed war-crimes court in Sierra Leone on charges of supporting rebels in a bloody conflict in that country.

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