- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

DAKAR, Senegal — Liberia’s Charles Taylor has stood at the center of West Africa’s arms- and diamond-trafficking, wars and refugee crises for 14 years, drawing U.N. sanctions and a U.N.-backed war-crimes indictment.

Educated at a Boston business school and trained in a guerrilla camp in Libya, Mr. Taylor began his warlord career by sawing out the window bars of a Massachusetts jailhouse and shinnying down a knotted sheet in 1985, escaping extradition and trial on charges of embezzling $1 million in his Liberian homeland.

The escape set the tone for what was to come — Mr. Taylor got what he wanted by force. During the next two decades, he fought his way to Liberia’s presidency. In his drive to corner West Africa’s diamonds and arms trade, he backed militias that tore at the stability of the region.

Mr. Taylor, 54, once acknowledged that he had ruined Liberia in the process.

“I agree that I spoiled it,” Mr. Taylor said in 1997, when he was seeking power in elections and won the presidency in a landslide. “And I need to be given the chance to fix it.”

Mr. Taylor was born of mixed heritage, his father of local Liberian stock and his mother a descendant of the freed American slaves who founded Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, in the 19th century.

Despite making up just 5 percent of the population, the Liberian-Americans ruled Liberia until 1980, when their bloody overthrow gave Liberia’s indigenous people control for the first time in the country’s history.

Trying to distance himself from the unpopular Liberian-American elite, Mr. Taylor adopted Ghankay as a middle name.

He spent the 1970s studying and working in Boston, as a gas station attendant and as a mechanic at a plastics factory. He earned an economics degree from Bentley College in Waltham, Mass.

Mr. Taylor returned to Liberia after the 1980 overthrow of the Liberian-Americans. He won a high post in the new government, but evidently wanted more. He is suspected of embezzling $1 million as head of Liberia’s General Services Administration.

Mr. Taylor escaped to the United States, then broke out of the Boston jail and made his way to Libya, a mini-battlefield of the Cold War.

Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi trained, armed and funded Mr. Taylor and other budding West African revolutionaries, including Sierra Leone’s Foday Sankoh.

Mr. Taylor returned to West Africa in 1989 at the head of a small force, invading to overthrow the U.S.-allied government of Samuel Doe, a former military sergeant.

The ensuing seven-year civil war saw Sgt. Doe and more than 150,000 other Liberians killed. Liberia was devastated.

Mr. Taylor, acknowledged and even respected in Liberia as the country’s strongest warlord, won presidential elections the next year. “You killed my ma, you killed my pa, I’ll vote for you,” one mordant campaign cry ran.

Meanwhile, Mr. Taylor backed Mr. Sankoh, who was leading a 10-year terror campaign for the diamond fields of Sierra Leone. Neighboring Guinea and Ivory Coast likewise accused Mr. Taylor of undermining their stability.

The United Nations Security Council placed Mr. Taylor and his regime under sanctions on suspicion of gun- and diamond-running. And this month, on June 4, a U.N.-backed war crimes court announced his indictment in connection with the rebel campaign in Sierra Leone.

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