Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor was sent into exile nearly two years ago after eight years of leading a brutal insurgency and another six years of bloody rule but he has apparently rejected the idea of a quiet retirement. Officials at the U.N.-backed Sierra Leone war-crimes tribunal told the Security Council in New York City last week that Taylor is now working closely with representatives of al-Qaeda to try to destabilize the region.
"Al-Qaeda has been in West Africa. It continues to be in West Africa, and Charles Taylor has been harboring members of al-Qaeda," tribunal prosecutor David Crane told a press conference after the president of the tribunal appeared before the Security Council. Chief court investigator Alan White said he has evidence that Taylor "and others" were behind a January assassination attempt on Guinean President Lansana Conte. In addition, he said, Taylor had funneled money from al-Qaeda to a man who later announced his candidacy for Liberia's presidency. Through a spokesman, Taylor, who now lives in Nigeria, denied the allegations. The Sierra Leone court, Western governments and human-rights groups are cranking up pressure on Nigeria to hand Taylor, who faces 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the brutal conflict in Sierra Leone, over to the court for prosecution.
But Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says that, short of "irrefutable evidence" that Taylor has committed crimes from Nigeria, he will extradite Taylor only to Liberia. "The President keeps asking to see the evidence," says Obasanjo spokeswoman Remi Oyo, who points out that Nigeria agreed to grant Taylor asylum under pressure from Western nations. "All we get is statements and soundbites on television. But we need to see evidence, or we will not be seen as credible and honorable members of the international community." Nigeria may have a point, but don't expect the war-crimes tribunal to let up until it snares the biggest name on its list.