Liberia's Taylor Flown to The Hague to Face War Crimes Charges

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

PARIS, June 20 -- Former Liberian president Charles Taylor -- once one of Africa's most feared warlords -- arrived Tuesday in The Hague to face charges of war crimes and allegations that he destabilized West African countries while amassing a fortune from illegal trade in diamonds, guns and timber.

Taylor's trial was moved from Sierra Leone, where he is accused of mass murder, sexual slavery and conscripting children during his support for a rebel movement that killed thousands of people during that country's 1991-2002 civil war.

The U.N. Security Council, which approved the move from Freetown to the facilities of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, cited concerns that trying the case in Sierra Leone could destabilize Liberia, Sierra Leone and neighboring countries.

Taylor's former wife said he knew he would be transferred from a prison in Freetown to The Hague this week, according to news reports. She said he was eager to respond to the allegations, which he denied in a preliminary court appearance in Freetown after his arrest in March.

"Mr. Taylor is in a very reflective and pensive mood," Jewel Taylor, a member of Liberia's Senate, told the BBC Tuesday. "This is his whole life we're talking about." She added, "There is not basis for the charges that have been levied on Mr. Taylor."

The former president, 58, arrived in the Netherlands on a U.N.-chartered jet and was led from the plane in handcuffs. He then was driven to the International Criminal Court's detention center in the suburbs of The Hague. The proceedings will be held in the courtrooms of the international court, although the trial will be conducted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Taylor is the first former African head of state to be brought before a war crimes tribunal, and his case comes at a time when prosecutors have begun making tentative efforts across the continent to hold political leaders accountable for the corruption, genocide and brutality of African conflicts in the final decades of the last century. He served as president of Liberia from 1997 until 2003, when he was forced to resign.

Taylor is charged with sponsoring and aiding a rebel organization in Sierra Leone that chopped off the limbs of its civilian victims and forced women into sexual slavery and children into combat, among other atrocities. While he was actively working to destabilize the region, Taylor built a massive personal fortune from illegal trading.

He had been living comfortably in exile in Nigeria until this spring, when President Olusegun Obasanjo agreed to turn him over to the Liberian government. Taylor attempted to flee and was nabbed at a border post near Cameroon in March. At a court appearance in Freetown in April, Taylor said he was innocent and described the charges against him as "an attempt to continue to divide and rule the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone."

Taylor will be housed in the same prison where former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was detained.

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