ABUJA (Reuters) – Former Liberian president Charles Taylor, wanted for war crimes by a court in Sierra Leone, has disappeared from his residence in southeastern Nigeria, the Nigerian presidency said on Tuesday.
The disappearance is an embarrassment for Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, on a visit to the United States this week, because Washington has been pressing for years for Taylor to stand trial at the special U.N.-backed court…
…Taylor disappeared on Monday night, it said, two days after Nigeria said Liberia was free to take him into its custody.
Nigerian police said 22 officers detailed to guard Taylor had been arrested for misconduct and dereliction of duty.
Nigeria and Liberia have been at odds about where he should go. In Sierra Leone, Taylor stands accused of supporting rebels notorious for hacking off the limbs of civilians, in exchange for diamonds to finance the Liberian conflict.
The two wars claimed an estimated 300,000 lives and spawned a generation of child soldiers.
The speculation is that the Nigerian president allowed Taylor to escape to avoid the precedent of turning in another African leader.
Analysts said it was possible Nigeria let Taylor get away because Obasanjo did not want to set a precedent.
“Allowing Charles Taylor to stand trial for war crimes sets a very controversial precedent for African heads of state and former heads of state because many of them … have blood on their hands,” said Corinne Dufka of Human Rights Watch.
Taylor’s spiritual adviser Kilari Anand Paul, an evangelical preacher who played a major part in persuading Taylor to leave Liberia in 2003, said he had probably gone back to his country.
“I am worried that he will go back to Liberia and start fighting again. I suspect he is already in Liberia,” said Paul.
Liberians are naturally scared.
Monrovia- Fear gripped Liberians Tuesday amidst rumours that former president and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor has escaped from his residence in the southern Nigerian town of Calabar.
‘We are afraid because we know what Taylor is capable of doing. Since it was said that he has escaped, I have not eaten or slept well,’ said housewife Titi Kandakai, 35.
‘I hope Taylor does not surface in one of Liberia’s thickest forests,’ said accountant Samuel Timothy, 40.
Many Liberians hold Taylor responsible for starting the 1989-2003 civil war that killed an estimated ten per cent of the Liberian population.
The Special Court in Sierra Leone issued a statement about Taylor’s disappearance:
Chief Prosecutor Desmond de Silva says, “Today marks a step back on the road to accountability and justice. Charles Taylor is now an international fugitive.”
De Silva calls Taylor “A threat to the peace and security of West Africa.” He adds, “His disappearance now from under the eye of a regional superpower only heightens that threat and puts the whole region on the highest alert. It is now up to the government of Nigeria, the regional leaders of West Africa and the international community to respond immediately and to take all necessary steps to ensure that Mr. Taylor is located, detained and transferred to the special court for Sierra Leone forthwith.”
Secretary Rice says Nigeria faces consequences if it doesn’t find Taylor and turn him over to Liberia:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was Nigeria’s responsibility to hand over Taylor for prosecution, warning of “consequences” if it did not happen…
…Rice stressed Obasanjo had promised to closely monitor Taylor and turn him over once a new Liberian government was in place.
“If we are no longer on course for that then we will have to examine why this happened and have consequences accordingly,” said Rice, without specifying what the consequences would be.
President Bush is supposed to meet with the Nigerian president. He needs to cancel this meeting immediately.
Update: Charles Taylor was arrested in Nigeria:
Former Liberian president, Mr. Charles Taylor who reportedly escaped from Calabar Monday has been arrested. He was apprehended by the officials of Nigerian police force while driving towards Maiduguri.
Taylor was heading towards the Cameroun border in an apparent bid to avoid trial.
He was sent Sierra Leone for trial.