- The handover of ex-Dictator Charles Taylor to Liberia and his immediate transport to Sierra Leone has spurred fears of political violence in both countries, which only are recovering from brutal civil wars attributed to Mr Taylor. The Monrovia and Freetown governments and the UN-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone have sent a formal request to the Netherlands, asking for Mr Taylor to be tried in The Hague.
Pressure on the Nigerian government had been growing during the last few months to extradite Mr Taylor to the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal. The court itself, human rights groups, Western governments - and at last the newly inaugurated Liberian government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf - demanded a handover.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo grudgingly accepted, but made Liberia responsible for the handover of Mr Taylor, who almost managed to escape into Cameroon with a bag full of foreign currencies yesterday. During his visit to the US, President Obasanjo was amused by the chaos his probably unexpected concession had caused for those earlier demanding the handover.
A handcuffed Mr Taylor with a bullet-proof jacket was yesterday taken to Liberia, where President Johnson-Sirleaf was in no mood to receive the ex-Dictator. She expected Mr Taylor's presence in Liberia to cause further instability as her new government is trying to reconstruct the country ravaged by Mr Taylor's wars.
Therefore, the ex-President was received by only UN peacekeepers at the Monrovia airport. With a large security arrangement, Mr Taylor passed through a sealed-off part of the airport during torrential rains, and was taken directly to a UN helicopter that brought him to neighbouring Sierra Leone. There, Ms Johnson-Sirleaf expected him to be handed over to the UN-backed war crimes court, which had indicted the Liberian leader on 17 charges of crimes against humanity in 2003.
It today however turned out that Mr Taylor not was welcome in Sierra Leone as well. The extremely poor Liberian neighbour has its own security problems, with UN peacemakers still needing to assist the government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Mr Taylor still may have armed followers in Sierra Leone and the border with Liberia is not well enough secured.
Today, therefore, the President of the UN-backed court, Justice Raja Fernando, made it known that he had requested for Mr Taylor to be tried in another country, preferably at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. It would still be the Sierra Leonean court trying Mr Taylor, but it would "exercise its functions away from the seat of the court in Freetown," as Mr Fernando puts it.
The Sierra Leonean special court - whose prosecutor Desmond de Silva until yesterday forcefully demanded the extradition of Mr Taylor - referred to "concerns about the stability in the region should Taylor be tried in Freetown." Mr Fernando knows he is asking for much, as a trial in The Hague would need an approval by the Dutch government and a special resolution by the UN Security Council.
The ICC has already said it would be willing to consider the request from Sierra Leone, possibly lending its venue to the special court. The Dutch government today in general terms said such an operation could be done, but demanded Mr Taylor - if sentenced to a prison term - would not be sent to a Dutch jail. The US government also was positive, saying a UN Security Council resolution could be passed relatively quickly.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, President Obasanjo has kept quiet since he ordered "the immediate repatriation" of Mr Taylor after the Liberian had tried to escape. While human rights groups and parts of the press had aggressively attacked the Nigerian leader for his unwillingness to extradite Mr Taylor earlier, more positive assessments are suddenly heard. After all, Nigeria had not wanted to hand over Mr Taylor before Liberia was ready for it, Mr Obasanjo reminds his critics.
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