- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2005

NEW YORK - Pressure is growing in Washington and the United Nations to transfer Charles Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone as accusations mount that the former Liberian president is working from exile to destabilize West Africa.

Officials with the U.N.-created war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone asked the Security Council last week to consider drafting a legally binding resolution compelling Nigeria, Mr. Taylor’s host since August 2003, to transfer him to the court where he is charged with 17 counts of war crimes and related charges for arming and funding rebel militias during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war.

In late April, Congress passed a bill demanding that Nigeria turn over Mr. Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

President Bush told Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo when they met at the White House in early May that the former Liberian president must be held accountable.

The Nigerian government remains reluctant to turn over its guest to the court, and officials say they have seen no credible accusations of Mr. Taylor’s meddling.

To human rights groups and some U.S. lawmakers, that inaction is infuriating.

“There is no sense spending billions of dollars to rebuild Sierra Leone and Liberia, knowing that warlord is out there scheming to knock down everything we’re trying to achieve,” said Rep. Ed Royce, the California Republican who co-authored the bill.

Mr. Royce, an “absolutist” who said he opposed exile for Mr. Taylor in 2003, told The Washington Times he is satisfied that Mr. Taylor has dealings with Hezbollah, al Qaeda and other terror groups, probably through the sale of “conflict diamonds.”

Mr. Taylor also is suspected of bankrolling parties in Liberia’s upcoming October election and of encouraging coups in Guinea and Ivory Coast.

Born in 1948 near Monrovia, one of seven children of a descendant of the freed American slaves who created Liberia and a native tribeswoman, Mr. Taylor was drawn to the United States by school accounts of Liberia’s history, and went to Boston under a student visa in his early 20s to study. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics in 1977 and became involved in Americo-Liberian politics among countrymen living in the United States.

Two years later, Mr. Taylor picketed the Liberian Mission in New York while President William R. Tolbert Jr. was visiting. Angry at first, the president reportedly came out to debate the young Mr. Taylor and ended up inviting him to return to Liberia, where Mr. Taylor was put in charge of the government’s General Services Agency.

In April 1980, Mr. Tolbert and his entire Cabinet were slain by enlisted troops led by Sgt. Samuel K. Doe, a member of the Krahn tribe. It was the first time since Liberia’s establishment in 1847 by black freedmen that the country’s indigenous groups gained power and native Liberians went on a rampage against the former ruling class — Americo-Liberians, descendants of former U.S. slaves from many parts of Africa.

Despite his interest in Marxism and pan-Africanism during his college days, Mr. Taylor stayed with Sgt. Doe’s tribe-based government for about three years. He vanished after being accused by Sgt. Doe of embezzling nearly $1 million from the government.

In 1984, Mr. Taylor was arrested in Massachusetts on a warrant signed by Sgt. Doe, who was on friendly terms with President Reagan. The following year, while awaiting extradition to Liberia, he sawed through the bars of a second-floor laundry room and escaped from the Plymouth County Jail near Boston. He is thought to have fled to Libya, then a shrill foe of the United States.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Doe claimed victory in a disputed election as rival tribes struggled for control, and survived a 1985 coup attempt. An insurgency led by Mr. Taylor broke out toward the end of 1989. In late December, Mr. Taylor returned to Liberia at the head of several hundred guerrilla fighters who called themselves the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). After a series of victories, the NPFL attacked Monrovia, the capital, in July 1990.

During the fighting, the group split into two factions led by Mr. Taylor and a warlord calling himself “Prince” Yormie Johnson. By September, Mr. Johnson’s group controlled Monrovia. On Sept. 9, 1990, Mr. Johnson tortured and killed Sgt. Doe in a gruesome episode captured on videotape and widely distributed.

Combat for supremacy between the Taylor and Johnson forces followed. A peace agreement was reached in 1995, leading to elections in July 1997. Mr. Taylor was elected president with three-quarters of the vote. His closest rival, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of the Unity Party, garnered less than 10 percent.

Recognized as Liberia’s legitimate president in an election that foreign observers deemed fair at the time, Mr. Taylor continued to fight tribal insurgents. To finance his battles and weaken his tribal foes, he reportedly provided arms to rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea, and sold weapons for diamonds.

It is not his role as financier and fomenter of a decade’s civil war in Sierra Leone that worries observers and some governments, but rather Mr. Taylor’s connection to new pockets of instability in West Africa’s Mano River region.

Investigators for the U.N.-created Special Court for Sierra Leone, who have been gathering evidence against Mr. Taylor for a war-crimes trial, say that as recently as April he harbored al Qaeda-related operatives, plotted a coup attempt in Guinea and meddled in Liberian politics.

“He is a meddler, a terrorist and a war criminal,” David Crane, the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, told reporters last week, adding that all these activities violate the terms of his asylum.

“Until Charles Taylor is brought to justice, he will be an immediate, clear and present danger to the entire West African region,” said Alan White, the special court’s chief investigator. He added that Mr. Taylor might be working with al Qaeda.

The Nigerian government says it has no proof its terms of asylum have been violated.

“If anyone has evidence, real evidence, of these activities, they must send it to the federal government and we will investigate the matter,” said Ndekhedehe Effiong Ndekhedehe, legal adviser at the Nigerian Mission to the United Nations.

Mr. White and Mr. Crane, Americans who were seconded to the tribunal by the U.S. government, say they have evidence to prove that Mr. Taylor:

• Was involved in a January coup attempt in Guinea, probably in retaliation for President Lansana Conte’s support of an anti-Taylor Liberian militia.

• Harbored al Qaeda operatives who were involved in the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa.

• Received al Qaeda couriers bearing cash, which he then turned over to a Liberian associate who has since declared his candidacy in the October elections.

• Continues to meddle in Libera’s politics, commerce and security.

Much of this information is corroborated or suspected by international nongovernmental organizations, such as the Washington-based Coalition for International Justice, which has compiled dossiers on Mr. Taylor’s criminal activities and financial holdings.

Mr. Taylor’s exile, negotiated with the Nigerian government by U.S. and British intermediaries as rebel armies advanced on Monrovia in August 2003, allows him to travel in Nigeria and to visit or speak with anyone he chooses.

Nigeria, the backbone of many peacekeeping missions throughout the region, agreed to give Mr. Taylor asylum provided he lives quietly and makes no effort to influence or destabilize Liberia or other countries.

But Abuja has resisted pressure to transfer Mr. Taylor to the tribunal, saying his exile can be ended only if a democratically elected Liberian government asks that he be tried.

That is unlikely to happen, say observers, who pin their diminishing hopes on a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter that would praise Nigeria’s offer of asylum but condemn Mr. Taylor as a threat to international peace and security and call for his transfer to the Freetown Court, comprised of Sierra Leone and international judges.

The United States, Britain and the current council president of Denmark would support such a resolution, say U.N. diplomats, who note that other nations are far less keen.

The council did issue a press statement last week on “the importance of ensuring that all those who have been indicted by the court appear before it.”

There is widespread speculation about why the Nigerian government is reluctant to rid itself of Mr. Taylor, who has been living in Calabar, near the coast. Human-rights advocates say African leaders are reluctant to contest his immunity because so many of them must answer for crimes. There is also speculation that Mr. Taylor has invested in Nigerian industries, which would make the government more reluctant to remove him.

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