U.N. Requests Arrest of Former Liberian President
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
The chief prosecutor of the International War Crimes Tribunal in Sierre Leone is asking Nigeria to arrest Charles Taylor. He's the former Liberian president and warlord whose been living comfortably in Nigeria for the past three years he's been in exile.
Taylor faces 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for sponsoring years of strife in Liberia and neighboring Sierre Leone.
NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Nigeria's capital, Abuja.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:
Charles Taylor has been in exile in the southern Nigerian city of Calabar since he was forced from power under an international peace deal in 2003 that all but ended the civil war in Liberia. But Nigeria is not offering formerly to hand Taylor over or fly him out of the country, leaving the onus on Liberia.
Nigeria's Information Minister, Frank Nweke.
Mr. FRANK NWEKE JR. (Federal Information Minister, Nigeria): The issue of a handover does not arrive at all, because Charles Taylor was not arrested. He came to Nigeria a free man. Charles Taylor is an adult. He's a free man (unintelligible) that the President of the Government of Liberia may now come and fetch him. (Unintelligible).
QUIST-ARCTON: That's a dilemma for Liberia's fledgling government. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who initially said an end to Charles Taylor's exile was not a priority for rebuilding post-war Liberia, then made the request during an official visit to Washington earlier this month.
Liberia's Information Minister has expressed concern that Nigeria and Liberia have no extradition agreement, and they don't know how to arrest a former President in a foreign territory. Liberia says its working with what it called its international partners to have Taylor sent directly to Sierre Leone, its next-door-neighbor, where he's wanted for trial for fueling the brutal civil war there.
Mr. RICHARD DICKER (director of the International Justice program at Human Rights Watch): Mr. Taylor, it's important to recall, is an indicated war criminal facing 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for mass murder and slaughter of innocent civilians.
QUIST-ARCTON: Richard Dicker, of the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch.
Mr. DICKER: I think that allegation pales his previous title as an escaped convict and former President of Liberia. Mr. Taylor by any stretch of the imagination has long worn out his welcome mat.
QUIST-ARCTON: The UN-backed special court in Sierre Leone yesterday urged Nigeria to arrest Taylor immediately. Each of the 17 war crimes charges he faces carries a sentence of life imprisonment.
Nigeria had always said it would only hand Taylor over to an elected government in Liberia, and not to the War Crimes Court in Sierre Leone. Such a power took over in Liberia in January, but Taylor's wife, Liberian senator Jewel Howard, says there's no way he can get a fair trial in Sierre Leone.
Ms. JEWEL HOWARD-TAYLOR (Liberian senator and wife of Charles Taylor): It's not running away from justice or running away from a chance to clear his name. The issue of the Sierre Leone court is that the decks are already stacked against him. Maybe another court in another part of the world might be a more fairer place to prove whether these allegations are true or not.
QUIST-ARCTON: The chief prosecutor of the Sierre Leone War Crimes Court, Desmond de Silva.
Mr. DESMOND DE SILVA (Chief Prosecutor, Liberian War Crimes Court): Why not? He's an indicated war criminal? All the other defendants of those indictments were approved, are under, well most of them, are under trial at the moment. So why shouldn't he be under trial as well?
QUIST-ARCTON: Precisely the position of Human Rights Watch, which is concerned that Liberia's former President and rebel leader may try to abscond and slip out of Nigeria to avoid going to court.
Richard Dicker again.
Mr. DICKER: The fear is that the security around Mr. Taylor's villa in Calabar is quite lax, from all reports on the scene. Mr. Taylor, one must recall, escaped from a prison in the United States, outside Boston, Massachusetts, some years ago. And a man of his determination and ruthlessness, I would expect needs to be watched quite carefully if he is to be handed over for trial.
QUIST-ARCTON: The weekend announcement by the Nigerian President that Liberia was free to take Charles Taylor into its custody comes just ahead of a visit to the U.S. this week by Olusegun Obasanjo, where he's scheduled to meet President Bush Wednesday. Nigeria had until now resisted all calls, including from Washington, to hand Charles Taylor over. But a presidential spokeswoman in Nigeria denied they were reacting to pressure from Washington.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abuja.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And we have an update this morning on three hostages in Nigeria: two American, one British. They'd been held hostage for more than a month, but now they've been freed.
The three were among nine oil workers seized by militants belonging to the Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta in mid-February. The other six had already been freed.
These militants live in Nigeria's main oil producing region and they've been waging a campaign in Nigeria, which is a major oil supplier to the United States, to get a larger share of their country's oil wealth.
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