- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigeria announced yesterday it is ready to hand over Liberian warlord Charles Taylor to be the first former African head of state tried for crimes against humanity.

A U.N. tribunal accuses Mr. Taylor of instigating horrific wars that destroyed two West African nations, killed 1.2 million people and left millions homeless and maimed. He also is thought to have harbored al Qaeda suicide bombers who attacked U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Mr. Taylor has been living in exile in the southern Nigerian city of Calabar since being forced from power under a 2003 accord that ended a rebel assault on Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. But Nigeria had resisted extraditing him, arguing he was given refuge under the internationally brokered peace deal.

Many African leaders are leery of trying former presidents or dictators, apparently worrying they could be the next to be accused of human rights abuses or other crimes. Others fear a push to try toppled leaders would encourage those in power to more fiercely resist democratic change.

But in a statement, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said he had informed Liberia’s president that “the government of Liberia is free to take former President Charles Taylor into its custody.”

After her inauguration in January, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said a trial for Mr. Taylor wasn’t a priority. But she made a formal request to Nigeria after an official visit to Washington, which is the source of aid needed to rebuild Liberia, Africa’s first republic founded by freed American slaves in 1847.

There was speculation Mr. Taylor would be sent directly to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone rather than be taken to Liberia, where there are worries his presence could destabilize the country trying to recover from 14 years of war.

Liberia’s government had no immediate comment, and neither Mr. Taylor nor his spokesman could be reached for comment.

In Liberia, security agents said they arrested at least two Taylor loyalists yesterday after getting reports that the former leader’s supporters were engaged in “secret meetings” to ensure he does not stand trial.

David M. Crane, the American prosecutor who drew up Mr. Taylor’s indictment, said his extradition would send a powerful message.

“Certainly African leaders, members of the good old boy network, are under notice that you cannot destroy your own citizens for your own personal gain and you don’t go after women and children — don’t rape women, don’t turn children into monsters,” Mr. Crane said.

He said a trial for Mr. Taylor would “crack the wall against impunity.”

Mr. Taylor started a civil war in his homeland that brutalized tens of thousands of young boys and girls drafted as rebel fighters. He is blamed for a savage war in neighboring Sierra Leone where rebels terrorized victims by chopping off arms, legs, ears and lips.

The indictment says Mr. Taylor is criminally responsible for the destruction of Liberia and Sierra Leone and for the murder, rape, maiming and mutilation of more a half-million Sierra Leoneans. An additional 2.5 million people were forced from their homes.

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