Former Liberian president placed on most wanted list

Declan Walsh
Friday 05 December 2003 01:00

Interpol placed the former Liberian president Charles Taylor on its most wanted list yesterday, boosting an international hunt to bring him to justice.

A "red notice" posted on the Interpol website accused Mr Taylor of "crimes against humanity" and "grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions" during the long civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The poster carried a photo graph of Mr Taylor in a suit and tie, accompanied by: "Person may be dangerous. If you have any information contact your national or local police." Mr Taylor, 55, has been living in exile in south-western Nigeria since August, when a rebel siege and international pressure forced him to step down.

The red notice should spark a flood of arrest warrants around the world, marking the latest move by prosecutors chasing the west African leader. It follows an earlier indictment by the Special Court in Sierra Leone, which accuses Mr Taylor of trading guns for diamonds with the Revolutionary United Front rebels, whose "signature" atrocity was to chop off limbs.

The 17-count indictment also includes charges of terrorising civilians, sexual violence, use of child soldiers, abductions, forced labour, looting and burning, and attacks on peace-keepers. Mr Taylor is also accused of stealing more than $100m (£58m) from Liberia.

David Crane, the Sierra Leone prosecutor, said the Interpol notice "will serve as a reminder that Charles Taylor remains a fugitive from justice" and that there is "no amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity". The move will also increase pressure on Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nigerian President, who offered Mr Taylor exile in August as United States warships loomed off Liberia's coast and rebel guns pounded Monrovia.

Mr Taylor's exile is being spent at a luxury villa in the coastal city of Calaba, where deprived of his guns, he is left with one weapon, the mobile phone. United Nations officials and his Nigerian hosts worry the wily leader is still meddling in Liberian politics through contact with loyal army officers and politicians, in breach of the exile agreement. Jacques Klein, the UN special representative for Liberia, said: "Taylor is clearly rebuilding his network. He is like a vampire. Until you drive a stake in his heart, he won't die."

Mr Taylor's exile to Nigeria offered an expedient solution to Liberia's crisis in August, paving the way for a peace deal with rebels and the subsequent deployment of UN peace-keepers. But it also reinforced the unimpeachable solidarity between African leaders, no matter how terrible their crimes. A Nigerian spokeswoman said yesterday that President Obasanjo had "explained that he will not allow Nigeria to be intimidated" into handing over Mr Taylor to Sierra Leone's court.

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