Liberia seeks Taylor's extradition


LIBERIA: Justice appeared to have caught up with Charles Taylor, the former warlord turned president of Liberia, yesterday when Nigeria confirmed it had received a request from the Liberian government to extradite him.

Taylor (58), was forced into exile in Nigeria three years ago under a peace deal ending 14 years of civil war. Shortly before he stepped down he was indicted for war crimes by an international tribunal in Sierra Leone, where he backed a rebel group notorious for hacking off the hands and feet of civilians.

Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has faced growing international pressure to bring to justice the man many Liberians blame for fuelling a civil war that cost a quarter of a million lives, left the country in ruins, and spilled over into neighbouring states. But the case poses a problem for Ms Johnson-Sirleaf, who took office in January, because Taylor still has supporters at home and his ex-wife is an elected senator.

The terms of Taylor's exile have never been revealed, but he is thought to have been promised that he would not face prosecution. The Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, is consulting with the African Union and regional leaders on how to respond to the request.

Nigeria has said it would only surrender Taylor if a democratically elected Liberian government requested it.

Taylor's spokesman in Nigeria, Sylvester Paasewe, accused the US of being behind what he called the "indecent proposal".

"I hope African leaders will throw off the yoke of neo-colonialismâ," he said. Liberia's information minister had on Monday denied any formal extradition request. Taylor, a descendant of the freed slaves who founded Liberia, led a small band of rebels into the country on December 24th, 1989, triggering a civil war which ended when he was elected president in 1997. A rebellion against his rule plunged Liberia back into war in 2000. In Sierra Leone he backed a rebel force accused of widespread torture and sexual assault. The indictment charges him with mass murder, rape and the use of child soldiers.