- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005


ABUJA, Nigeria — Liberia’s president-elect, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, said yesterday she has discussed the fate of her exiled predecessor, Charles Taylor, with his host and protector President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, but no decision has been made about him.

Mr. Taylor, who has been accused of war crimes by a U.N.-backed tribunal in Sierra Leone, has been living in Nigeria since August 2003, when Mr. Obasanjo persuaded him to step down as Liberia’s leader and allow a U.N.-backed peace process to end 14 years of civil war.

Since then, the Nigerian president has resisted mounting pressure from outside Africa to hand Mr. Taylor to a special court in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to face charges he sponsored a rebel army in Sierra Leone that maimed and killed thousands of civilians.

Instead, Mr. Obasanjo has promised to deliver Mr. Taylor to any elected Liberian government that asks for him.

Next year, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is to be sworn in as Liberia’s first elected leader since the fall of Mr. Taylor, but she seems reluctant to stoke tensions in Liberia by rushing to drag the former warlord from Nigeria.

“There are certain national and regional sensitivities which will be taken into account,” she told reporters when asked about Mr. Taylor’s fate. “With a little bit of time, we will find a solution that will serve Liberia’s peace and West Africa’s peace.”

She confirmed that she discussed the matter with Mr. Obasanjo during a stopover in Abuja, part of a six-nation tour of Liberia’s West African neighbors.

If Mr. Taylor were returned to Liberia, he is likely to be arrested by the 15,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force there and taken to Freetown under the terms of a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf told Agence France-Presse last month she doesn’t think Liberia is ready for such an upheaval. Mr. Taylor still has supporters in Liberia and, according to international prosecutors, has tried to maintain his influence at home by funding politicians there.

Still, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf said yesterday that “Liberia is a good-standing member of the United Nations and will abide by all the rules.”

Following her visit to Nigeria, she was due to continue on to Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Burkina Faso.

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