Two reports, one from Washington Post the other from Nigeria
Justice for Charles Taylor
PRESIDENT BUSH will meet today with Nigerian President Olusegun
Obasanjo, a democratically elected leader who has taken modest but
praiseworthy steps to fight endemic corruption in his country and has
committed peacekeeping troops and political leverage to promoting
stability and democracy in his neighborhood. Mr. Obasanjo has,
however, one large skeleton in his closet: Charles Taylor, the
indicted war criminal and al Qaeda ally who has wreaked havoc
throughout West Africa. Exploiting his grant of asylum in Nigeria,
Mr. Taylor is once again threatening to destabilize Liberia and its
neighbors. Mr. Bush and his visitor need to talk about putting a stop
to this menace.
In August 2003 Mr. Obasanjo helped end warfare in Liberia by
granting Mr. Taylor sanctuary, on the condition that he forgo any
attempt to regain power or meddle in the affairs of Liberia's
neighbors. For some 15 years before that deal Mr. Taylor had led or
sponsored a series of wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory
Coast. He committed some of the most horrific war crimes in Africa's
modern history, including the brutalization of thousands of children
who were compelled to join his armies, used as sex slaves or
dismembered. To finance his conquests, he traded in diamonds and took
financiers of al Qaeda and Hezbollah as his partners. Indicted by a
U.N.-sponsored tribunal on 17 counts of crimes against humanity and
besieged by enemy forces in his devastated capital, he won safe
passage to Nigeria because Liberians and outside powers, including
the United States and Britain, believed it would save lives and allow
reconstruction in the region.
Twenty-one months later that process remains fragile: U.N.
peacekeepers guard a tenuous calm in Liberia in advance of October
elections; in Ivory Coast a peace agreement hangs by a thread. In
blatant violation of his asylum deal, Mr. Taylor is doing his best to
disrupt this progress. According to the chief prosecutor of the
international tribunal, he masterminded the attempted assassination
of Guinea's president in January; he allegedly traveled to Burkina
Faso the next month to meet one of the candidates he is sponsoring in
the Liberian elections. Mr. Taylor hopes to install a crony as
Liberian president so that he can return to the country and renew his
regional warfare. The best means of stopping him, trial by the Sierra
Leone-based court, will be lost with the expiration of its mandate at
the end of this year.
Mr. Obasanjo has taken the position that he cannot break his promise
of asylum to Mr. Taylor unless he is presented with irrefutable proof
of his continued criminal behavior or is petitioned by a Liberian
government -- unlikely precisely because of the warlord's influence.
Mr. Bush can break this logjam by telling Mr. Obasanjo, in public as
well as in private, that the United States is convinced that Mr.
Taylor has violated his agreement and must be turned over to the
court. He can also commit strong American support to a U.N. Security
Council resolution that with the support of the current council
chair, Denmark, would call on Nigeria to deliver Mr. Taylor to the
court. Nigeria's president has no interest in offering further cover
to a criminal who aspires to plunge his region into chaos. He needs
the support and encouragement of Mr. Bush to bring Mr. Taylor to
justice, before it is too late.
Nigeria's Obasanjo heads for Washington amid row over
ABUJA, April 5 (AFP) - Nigeria's President Olusegun
Obasanjo set off for Washington on Thursday, airport
officials said, at the start of an official visit
already overshadowed by a dispute over his protection
of Liberian war crimes suspect Charles Taylor.
Obasanjo is the current chairman of the African
Union and officials here said that he hoped to brief
the US leader on his peace-making efforts in Togo,
Ivory Coast and Sudan as well as pushing Nigeria's own
case for the cancellation of its 35 billion dollar (27
million euro) external debt.
But, on the eve of his arrival, the US House of
Representatives passed a resolution urging Obasanjo to
rescind Liberian former president Taylor's political
asylum in Nigeria and hand him over to international
prosecutors at the war crimes tribunal in Sierra
The Nigerian leader has long insisted that he
cannot go back on his word to Taylor and that he would
only send him back to Liberia -- rather than
neighbouring Sierra Leone -- and then only if
elections produce a stable democratic regime which
could build a case against him.
"Mr Taylor is here because the international
community collectively asked Mr President to invite
him in order to end the fighting," Obasanjo's
spokeswoman Remi Oyo told AFP this week. "On October
11 the people of Liberia will be going to elections."
Taylor was removed to Nigeria in August 2003 after
Obasanjo and other African leaders persuaded him to
step down from office and allow a UN-backed interim
government to bring an end to Liberia's latest bout of
civil war and to begin organising proper elections.
But prosecutors have been agitating for him to be
turned over to the UN-endorsed tribunal in Sierra
Leone to face charges that he helped train and finance
the rebel forces which committed large-scale
atrocities during that west African country's own
1991-2001 civil war.
Taylor was indicted by the tribunal in June 2003 on
a charge that he was the main backer of the rebel
Revolutionary United Front, a ruthless guerrilla army
funded by money from the diamond trade which waged a
campaign of terror against civilians and was notorious
for severing the hands of its victims.
Last week the outgoing chief prosecutor at the
Sierra Leone court, former US Defence Department
lawyer David Crane, accused Taylor of seeking to
destabilise west Africa by ordering the assassination
of Guinea's President Lansana Conte. Obasanjo's
spokeswoman expressed doubt about the allegation.
"Under the terms of the agreement that he signed he
cannot use Nigeria as a base to continue his political
career. He's not allowed to leave Nigeria," she said,
while acknowledging that in the early days of his
exile he had tested Obasanjo's patience by remaining
in contact with former allies.
"In the beginning there was some flexing of muscles
by him, then we put him in his place," she said. "When
there's an elected government in Liberia and it asks
for him, he will go. He is not Nigerian."
Taylor's presence has been unpopular in Nigeria and
has been challenged in court by two Nigerian merchants
who lost their hands to the Liberian's alleged rebel
allies and by supporters of a pair of Nigerian
journalists who were killed by his forces in Liberia.
On Wednesday US lawmakers urged Nigeria to transfer
Taylor "to the jurisdiction of the Special Court for
Sierra Leone to undergo a fair and open trial for war
crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious
violations of international humanitarian law."
The White House has not yet reacted to the House of
Representatives' vote and the Bush administration has
enjoyed good relations with Nigeria, which it sees as
key to the stability of Africa's richest oil producing region.