Correction to This Article
A March 26 article incorrectly stated that Nigeria had agreed to surrender former Liberian president Charles Taylor to a U.N. tribunal. Nigeria offered to hand him over to Liberian custody.

Nigeria Ready to Surrender Ex-Liberian Ruler for War Crimes Trial

By Michelle Faul
Associated Press
Sunday, March 26, 2006

ABUJA, Nigeria, March 25 -- Nigeria announced Saturday that it was ready to hand over former Liberian president Charles Taylor to a U.N. tribunal, a move that would make him the first former African head of state to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

The tribunal has accused Taylor of instigating wars that devastated two West African countries, killed 1.2 million people and left millions homeless and maimed. He also allegedly harbored al-Qaeda suicide bombers who attacked the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Taylor has been living in exile in the southern Nigerian city of Calabar since he was forced from power under a 2003 accord that ended a rebel assault on Liberia's capital. But Nigeria had resisted extraditing him, arguing he was given refuge under an internationally brokered peace deal.

Many African leaders are reluctant to prosecute former presidents or dictators, apparently concerned they could be the next to be accused of human rights abuses or other crimes. Others fear that a push to prosecute toppled leaders would encourage those in power to more fiercely resist democratic change.

In the case of Taylor, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria said in a statement that he had informed Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, that "the government of Liberia is free to take former President Charles Taylor into its custody."

After her inauguration in January, Johnson-Sirleaf said a trial for Taylor wasn't a priority. But she made a formal request to Nigeria after an official visit to Washington, a major source of aid needed to rebuild Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves in 1847.

There was speculation that Taylor would be sent directly to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone rather than to Liberia, where some have expressed concern that his presence could destabilize efforts to recover from 14 years of war.

Liberia's government had no immediate comment, and neither Taylor nor his spokesman could be reached for comment.

David M. Crane, the American prosecutor who drew up Taylor's indictment, said his extradition would send a powerful message. "Certainly African leaders, members of the good-old-boy network, are under notice that you cannot destroy your own citizens for your own personal gain, and you don't go after women and children, don't rape women, don't turn children into monsters," he said.

Taylor started a civil war in his homeland that brutalized tens of thousands of boys and girls drafted as rebel fighters. He also is blamed for a savage war in neighboring Sierra Leone where rebels terrorized victims with a maiming campaign.

Taylor allegedly started the Sierra Leone war to enable his fighters to gain access to its rich diamond fields. In Liberia, he enriched himself from diamonds, timber and rubber.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company