- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Nigeria said yesterday that former Liberian President Charles Taylor, a war-crimes suspect in exile, had “disappeared” from his villa — an announcement that angered Washington a day before Nigeria’s leader was scheduled to visit the White House.

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s office said he had created “a panel of enquiry to look into the circumstances of [Mr. Taylor’s] disappearance … from his residence in Calabar” in southern Nigeria. The government statement said he disappeared Monday night.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on the matter today. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that “it would be extremely worrying if indeed he had disappeared, because the Nigerian government had indicated it will cooperate with his transfer to Liberia and to the [U.N.] court” in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Taylor’s “spiritual adviser” Kilari Anand Paul, an Indian evangelist, said a country, which he refused to name, had offered to take him. “Our first priority is to find political asylum for him to stabilize the situation,” Mr. Paul told Agence France-Presse in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where he met government officials.

The Bush administration said that Mr. Obasanjo’s administration bears responsibility for Mr. Taylor’s security, as well as for his extradition to Liberia, to which Nigeria reluctantly agreed last week.

“We consider it a very serious matter if he has escaped,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a Senate hearing yesterday. “There was an understanding that he’d be monitored.”

Miss Rice warned of “consequences” if Nigeria impedes Mr. Taylor’s delivery to the U.N. tribunal.

Several members of Congress from both parties urged the White House to cancel President Bush’s meeting with Mr. Obasanjo today, but spokesman Scott McClellan only said that “right now, we are looking for answers from the Nigerian government about the whereabouts of Charles Taylor.”

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, said that canceling the Oval Office meeting would send a message that “the United States stands unequivocally for bringing Charles Taylor to justice.”

Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican and a member of the House International Relations Committee, said that “any country that offers Charles Taylor sanctuary should know that such action will be met with stiff opposition in the U.S. Congress, including serious sanctions.”

Mr. Taylor, who was forced out of power in 2003, has been indicted on 17 charges of committing crimes against humanity while in office, including aiding a Sierra Leone rebel movement and trading guns and gems with the insurgents.

Desmond Da Silva, chief prosecutor of the Sierra Leone-based court, said yesterday that Mr. Taylor’s disappearance “is an affront to justice.”

“Today marks a step back on the road to accountability and justice. Charles Taylor is now an international fugitive,” Mr. Da Silva said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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