Nigeria says Charles Taylor (of Liberia) has disappeared

MICHELLE FAUL – The Associated Press

Copyright The Associated Press
Date: March 28, 2006
ABUJA, Nigeria_Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has disappeared
from his haven in Nigeria, just as he was to have been handed over to
face trial on war crimes charges, Nigerian officials said Tuesday.
Taylor vanished Monday night from his villa in the southern town of
Calabar, the government said. Last week, Nigeria’s government agreed _
under pressure from the U.S. and others _ to surrender him to stand before
a U.N. tribunal on charges related to civil war in Liberia’s neighbor,
Sierra Leone. President Olusegun Obasanjo was to travel to the United
States this week for a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush on
Wednesday.
A government statement said Obasanjo was creating a panel to
investigate Taylor’s disappearance on Monday night. The statement raised the
possibility he might have been abducted, but did not elaborate.
Nigerian presidential spokesman Oluremi Oyo said members of Taylor’s
Nigerian security detail had been arrested.
The presidential statement offered no details on how Taylor’s
disappearance was discovered or whether he was being hunted. Nigeria’s Guardian
newspaper reported Tuesday that dozens of people who had been living
with Taylor in the villa in a walled government compound had left Monday
and were flying to Lagos en route to an unknown destination.
Johnny Mcclain, Liberia’s information minister, said his government
would have no comment because Nigeria had not formally informed it of
Taylor’s disappearance.
Sando Johnson, a longtime Taylor loyalist, expressed concern.
“We hope that wherever Mr. Taylor has gone to, he’s going to survive,”
Johnson said in the Liberian capital. “We knew that calling for his
arrest was going to cause trouble and this is just what is happening now.”
Obasanjo had offered Taylor refuge under an agreement that helped end
Liberia’s civil war in 2003.
Since then, though, the United States, the United Nations and others
have called for Taylor to be handed over to an international war crimes
tribunal.
While the Sierra Leone tribunal’s charges refer only to the war there,
Taylor also has been accused of starting civil war in Liberia and of
harboring al-Qaida suicide bombers who attacked the U.S. embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 12 Americans and more than 200
Africans.
He is charged with backing Sierra Leone rebel, including child
fighters, who terrorized victims by chopping off body parts.
Obasanjo initially resisted calls to surrender Taylor. But Saturday,
after Liberia’s new President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf asked that Taylor be
handed over for trial, Obasanjo agreed.
African leaders have been reluctant to see the continent’s former
presidents or dictators brought to justice, apparently fearful they would be
the next to be accused of human rights abuses or other crimes. African
leaders have been reluctant to see the continent’s former presidents or
dictators brought to justice, apparently fearful they would be the next
to be accused of human rights abuses or other crimes.
Since agreeing Saturday to hand Taylor over, Obasanjo had been under
pressure to ensure Taylor was sent to the U.N. tribunal sitting in Sierra
Leone. Taylor had escaped from a U.S. penitentiary in Boston to launch
Liberia’s war.
He also is believed to have considerable resources. U.N. investigators
have said he and his allies continued to steal from the Liberian
treasury even from exile. The U.N. Security Council had expressed concern he
was using “misappropriated funds” to undermine his homeland’s stability
in the run-up to the elections Sirleaf won earlier this year, taking
over from a transitional administration.
On Monday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United
States has told Obasanjo that it was Nigeria’s responsibility to “see
that he is able to be conveyed and face justice.”
APviaNewsEdge
Copyright (c) 2006 The Associated Press

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