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UN War Crimes Court Wants Liberia's Exiled Taylor

by Lansana Fofana

U.S. Seeks Exemption From Possible War Crimes -- In Liberia
(IPS) FREETOWN -- "The indictment served against Mr. Taylor still stands no matter where he goes or how long it takes. Charles Taylor is a war criminal and he must face justice," says the Prosecutor of the Special Court David Crane, an American.

Taylor was indicted by the UN-backed Special War Crimes Court for Sierra Leone in March, but the indictment itself was unsealed three months later, when the former Liberian president was attending peace talks in Ghana to end the conflict in his country.

"Charles Taylor was part of a joint criminal enterprise that funded, organized and committed grave atrocities against the people of Sierra Leone," Crane says.

Taylor, who handed power to his deputy, Moses Blah, on Monday, is facing a 17-count indictment for "war crimes, crime against humanity and violations of international humanitarian law."

Alan White, the chief investigator of the court, says Taylor would be prosecuted for "bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war," which ended in 2001.

Taylor is accused of backing rebels of the Revolutionary United front (RUF) in neighboring Sierra Leone, who are accused of hacking of limbs of civilians and disembowelling pregnant women, among other forms of atrocities.

Taylor is believed to have traded weapons and ammunition with the rebels for diamonds. In fact, the RUF launched its rebellion in March 1991 from Liberia, where Taylor was himself leader of a murderous rebel outfit, known as the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPLF). Taylor is believed to have helped set up the rebel RUF and supported it throughout the conflict.

The creation of the Special Court followed an agreement between the Sierra Leonean government and the United Nations following the end of Sierra Leone's civil war in 2001, with a mandate to prosecute the political and military commanders of the former warring factions and their backers.

Among the key actors to be indicted so far are Foday Sankoh, the leader of the RUF, his deputy Issa Sesay and former RUF battlefield commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie. Both Sankoh and Bockarie are now dead. From the pro-government militia, known as "Kamajors," the indictees are the group's national coordinator, Sam Hinga Norman, who was also the country's minister of internal affairs, and two commanders Moinina Fofanah and Allie Kondewa.

Two more notorious commanders from another armed faction, known as the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) Tamba Alex Brima "Gullit" and Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara are also in the net.

Also indicted but yet on the run is former junta leader Johnny Koroma. Some claim he was slain by alleged Taylor hitmen recently. The court has other indictees in its custody and its prosecutor says more indictments will be announced as and whenever the evidence leads.

The question now for the court is, when and how Taylor could be brought before the court. He abdicated power this week following a U.S.-backed deal with Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo to have Taylor go into exile in Nigeria and save Liberia further bloodletting.

This, however, does not grant him immunity from prosecution by the Sierra Leonean court. The Nigerians have been mostly silent on the matter of the court and are simply saying that they are offering Taylor sanctuary in the interest of peace and stability in Liberia and the sub-region. Whether they will later turn over Taylor is yet unclear.

The court, though backed by the United Nations, does not have any formal treaty with countries other than Sierra Leone to arrest and turn over war crimes inductees. But Nigeria may well come under international pressure to hand over Taylor to the court.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, appears less than generous in his approach to Taylor. While acknowledging Nigeria's offer of asylum, the UN head has insisted that international law must take its course and if Taylor is to be tried for war crimes, then so be it.

"The only way the court could get hold of Taylor is if and when he travels out of Nigeria," says political commentator Sam Johnson.

For now the future of 55-year-old Taylor, blamed for 14 years of the turmoil in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire, remains uncertain, as he starts a new life in exile in the Nigerian city of Calabar with his wife and four children.

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Albion Monitor August 13, 2003 (

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