- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

MONROVIA, Liberia — Liberia’s defense minister said today that the United Nations will transport former President Charles Taylor by helicopter to Sierra Leone for trial on war-crimes charges when Taylor arrives in Liberia from exile in Nigeria.

“That’s the helicopter that will bring him to Sierra Leone” where the war crimes court is based, Defense Minister Brownie Samukai told reporters, referring to a white U.N.-emblazoned troop transport helicopter at the main airport in Liberia.

Taylor was expected to arrive back in his homeland after being arrested on the run in Nigeria, a day after escaping custody while awaiting trial on war crimes charges.

Taylor was captured Tuesday night by security forces in the far northeastern border town of Gamboru, in Borno State, nearly 600 miles from the villa in southern Calabar from which he reportedly disappeared Monday night, Information Minister Frank Nweke said in a statement. He was trying to cross the border into Cameroon.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, on a visit to the White House, gave few details about Taylor’s arrest, except to say he was picked up in a car with his wife and taken to a regional state capital.

President Bush said he appreciated Nigeria’s work in apprehending Taylor.

“The fact that Charles Taylor will be brought to justice in a court of law will help Liberia and is a sign of your deep desire for there to be peace in your neighborhood,” Bush told Obasanjo in an Oval Office meeting.

A Nigerian police official said Taylor was in a vehicle with his son, an aide and a local guide when arrested. They also were carrying two 110-pound sacks filled with U.S. and European currency, Alhaji Mohammed Aminu Bello said.

Taylor and his son were taken into custody while the others were let go, Bello said.

A plane carrying Taylor left from Maiduguri, capital of northwestern Borno state, for Liberia, a senior police official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

In Liberia, hundreds of U.N. troops patrolled inside the main airport near the capital, Monrovia. Dozens of elite Irish troops in armored personnel carriers parked their vehicles on the airstrip.

There are 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said she wanted Taylor sent to Sierra Leone because his presence in Liberia could destabilize her fragile country as it takes its first steps toward rebuilding since she was installed in January.

Desmond de Silva, the top prosecutor at the U.N.-backed Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal that will try Taylor, told the AP that U.N. forces in Liberia should then transfer Taylor to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Diplomats and court staff at the tribunal gathered near a helipad next to the facility’s prison, which houses other defendants. De Silva was confident that Taylor soon would be behind bars.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters “it’s a great relief that he’s been recaptured.”

“I think his capture and being put on trial does not only close a chapter, but it also sends a powerful message to the region that impunity will not be allowed to stand and would-be warlords will pay a price,” Annan said.

Taylor disappeared just days after Nigeria, which had granted him asylum under a 2003 agreement that helped end Liberia’s 14-year civil war, bowed to pressure to surrender Taylor to face justice before the tribunal.

All 22 Nigerian police officers responsible for guarding Taylor have been arrested, the Nigerian government said Tuesday.

The admission that Taylor had slipped away came an hour before Obasanjo left Nigeria for Washington to meet with President Bush. The White House had suggested the meeting might be canceled if Nigeria’s leader did not have some answers for Bush about Taylor’s disappearance.

Obasanjo said the mood of the White House encounter had “changed drastically” as a result of Taylor’s arrest.

“I feel vindicated,” Obasanjo said as he rejected the notion that Nigerian authorities may have been complicit in Taylor’s escape.

Those who spread such ideas “are wrong and owe an apology.”

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the Bush administration is “committed to working with Nigeria and Liberia to make sure that Charles Taylor is brought to justice.”

Nigeria announced last week it would hand Taylor over to a U.N.-backed tribunal to be tried for alleged war crimes related to Sierra Leone’s 1991-2001 civil war, but the government made no moves to arrest him before he disappeared.

Taylor, a one-time warlord and rebel leader, is charged with backing Sierra Leone rebels, including child fighters, who terrorized victims by chopping off their arms, legs, ears and lips. He would be the first African leader to face trial for crimes against humanity.

While the Sierra Leone tribunal’s charges refer only to the war there, Taylor also has been accused of starting civil war in Liberia and of harboring al-Qaida suicide bombers who attacked the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing more than 200 people.

Obasanjo initially resisted calls to surrender Taylor. But after Sirleaf asked Saturday that Taylor be handed over for trial, Obasanjo agreed.

Security officials in Liberia said they had arrested several Taylor supporters, allegedly for holding secret meetings to plot how Taylor could avoid standing trial.

Many of Taylor’s loyalist soldiers are believed to be roaming freely in Liberia, Sierra Leone and civil-war divided Ivory Coast, from where Taylor launched his rebel incursion into Liberia on Dec. 24, 1989.

Related article:

Taylor missing from custody

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