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Long, Winding Road to Trial for Liberia's Taylor

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Long, Winding Road to Trial for Liberia's Taylor

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Long, Winding Road to Trial for Liberia's Taylor

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

U.S. Authorities said today they have arrested a son of Liberia's former President Charles Taylor. Charles McArthur Emanuel, also known as Chucky Taylor, is a U.S. citizen. Immigration officials took him into custody Thursday at the Miami airport and charged him with lying about his father on a passport application. Charles Taylor Senior, the infamous warlord turned president, was also arrested this past week. After disappearing from his exile residence in Nigeria, he was captured Tuesday and flown to Sierra Leone, where he's been charged by a special war crimes tribunal. We take a closer look at the Charles Taylor case now, beginning with a profile from NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:

He was born Charles McArthur Taylor, 58 years ago, the descendant of freed American slaves who founded Liberia in the 18th century. Educated in the U.S., Taylor joined the Liberian government of President Samuel Doe in the early 1980s, but the two men fell out. Taylor was accused of embezzlement and fled to America. Awaiting extradition back to Liberia in 1985, he escaped from a jail outside Boston. The 1990s saw Charles Taylor, the rebel leader, back in Liberia, vowing to toppled Doe's dictatorship and touting his image as a man of the people.

Mr. CHARLES TAYLOR (President of Liberia): Charles Taylor is not that hungry, beady lion that wants to be president of the interim government and president of this. I am no president without the people that I represent. If my organization desires that I should step aside to permit someone else to lead the interim and I go for the general election and that is what is good for the country, I will do nothing to destroy that process.

QUIST-ARCTON: Six years later, Liberia's economy was in ruins. Thousands of people had been killed and tens of thousands more displaced in and outside the country. Samuel Doe had been tortured to death by a rival rebel leader. The war continued and in 1997, exhausted and demoralized, Liberians voted Taylor president.

Unidentified Man: What (unintelligible) for justice, for equality and true democracy in the republic of Liberia, is Charles Ghankay Taylor.

(Soundbite of music)

QUIST-ARCTON: In the meantime, war had engulfed neighboring diamond-rich Sierra Leone, where some rebels were reported to have trained in Libya with Charles Taylor. Taylor stands accused of being deeply involved in that conflict, too. Why? Among the many reasons sighted, so that he and his allies could gain control of lucrative gemstone-producing areas and trade what came to be known as blood diamonds for arms for the rebels to fuel wars on both sides of the border.

In 2003, prosecutors at the special U.N.-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone indicted Charles Taylor on charges of bankrolling the civil war there. All the while, in Liberia, opposition to Charles Taylor's rule had grown. Rebels were bombarding their way towards the city gates of the capital, Monrovia. African leaders, the U.N., the United States and the European Union stepped in. To end the war, Taylor's exile was negotiated and Nigeria agreed to provide asylum.

But ever the showman, Taylor couldn't leave without a dramatic parting speech to Liberians.

Mr. TAYLOR: Charles Taylor, the 21st President, is on his way out. I can no longer see you suffer. The suffering is enough, for you are good people. You've been very good to me through the grace of God and I love you from the bottom of my heart. I will always remember you wherever I am and I say to you, God willing, I will be back.

QUIST-ARCTON: Not even Charles Taylor could have imagined that three year later, his return would come after he was caught trying to flee his exiled home, Nigeria. Captured by the Nigerians, he was flown directly to Liberia, which immediately transferred him to U.N. custody in Sierra Leone. Handcuffed, unshaven and looking dazed and shocked, Taylor arrived in Sierra Leone Wednesday night. Now he's set to face charges for backing notorious rebels whose trademark was to ask their civilian victims, short sleeves or long sleeves? Then they'd chop off their arms and hands, lips or legs. Sierra Leonean Maxwell Forner(ph) was an able-bodied 18 year old student when the rebels came to his town. Now, with one leg and one prosthesis, he's one of thousands of war amputees.

Mr. MAXWELL FORNER (War Amputee): Let him stay forever jailed (unintelligible). Because he had amputated me. He caused this amputation. Look, he should go to jail forever. Let him stay in the jail forever.

QUIST-ARCTON: Concerned that Charles Taylor may try to use his alleged looted fortune and web of influence to again destabilize Liberia, Sierra Leone and the rest of West Africa, means his fate may be decided outside the region. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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