Nigeria May Face Pressure to Hand Over Taylor

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - An African legal expert believes it is only a matter of time before former Liberian president Charles Taylor, indicted by the U.N.-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone, is arrested.

Taylor, now exiled in Nigeria, is accused of playing a key role in the brutal 10-year war waged against the Sierra Leone government by the brutal Revolutionary United Front rebel group.

Taylor is accused of offering logistic support and helping to arm the RUF, whose trademark was hacking off the limbs of civilians supportive of the government.

He also allegedly participated in the smuggling of so-called "conflict diamonds" used to finance the war in the neighboring country and offered training facilities to the rebels.

Nigeria offered Taylor asylum as a way to end the violence in Liberia, where two rebel groups had been fighting to oust him.

Philip Kichina, executive director of International Commission of Jurists in Kenya, said the exile offer flew in the face of the tribunal indictment.

"Pressure will be brought upon Nigeria soon to hand him over to the U.N. court," he said.

Pressure was likely to come from human rights campaigners, some of whom Kichina said regarded Taylor's exile as a "conspiracy" in which Nigeria, South Africa and the United States collaborated to thwart the efforts to prosecute him.

This perception arose from the fact that Nigeria seemed to have gone out of its way to welcome Taylor, giving him a comfortable mansion with a security detail, while neither the U.S. nor South Africa - which played a mediation role - had protested his treatment or insisted he head straight for the tribunal, he said.

Although Taylor's exile could help bring peace to Liberia, it was unfortunate that legal requirements had to be ignored, Kichina added.

Earlier this week, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch appealed to the Nigerian government to send Taylor to the tribunal.

"Taylor's support for the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone contributed to the deaths, rapes and mutilations of thousands of civilians there, prompting United Nations sanctions on his regime," it said in a statement.

Regional political analyst Dr. Moustafa Hassouna said the decision by the Africa Union to support Taylor's exit was influenced by Nigeria, whose nationals form the bulk of the AU's secretariat.

Despite this, however, he said the action could bring peace to Liberia.

Summonses from the U.N. court were not "an end in themselves," he added.

Another political analyst, Reuben Kyama, said Taylor's exit could be seen as the ending of traditional African politics, where leaders held onto power. Instead, there may be a move towards a form of politics driven by the need for democracy, peace and development.

"Unlike in the immediate post colonial Africa, Western nations are now not supporting African dictators," said Kyama.

"I do not entirely see the hand of Africa Union, but I see lots of Western pressure in the whole Taylor affair," he said. "Western nations are responsible for fuelling this sense of change."

The war crimes court indicted Taylor in June while he was on a visit to Ghana, but the Ghanaian authorities allowed him to travel back to his country.

Although Taylor remains at large, the court has succeeded in freezing Taylor's personal and business Swiss bank accounts.

"The money may be evidence of the joint criminal enterprise that we allege Taylor, with several other indictees, conducted in Sierra Leone over a period of years," said the court's chief prosecutor, David Crane.

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