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

Taylor asylum

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 Leone.

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 October's Liberian 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 further 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.