U.S. lawmakers say visiting Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has told them her government has formally asked Nigeria to turn over former president Charles Taylor so he can face trial on war crimes charges. Lawmakers delivered the news after meeting the Liberian leader on Capitol Hill.
The news came in a surprise announcement by House lawmakers engaged in a debate on a multi-billion dollar spending bill to fund U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Republican Congressman Ed Royce rose to express concern that President Sirleaf, who addressed Congress on Wednesday, had not yet formally requested Charles Taylor's extradition from Nigeria. "Taylor must face justice for the killing and maiming that he engineered. Bringing him to the Special Court [for Sierra Leone] will end the cycle of impunity that destabilizes West Africa. And most pressing to today's business, Taylor remains a threat to the progress that the U.S. has done so much to achieve," he said.
Congressman Jim Kolbe, who chairs the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, then rose to make this announcement, after a meeting he and a House Democrat had with President Sirleaf: "We asked this question, specifically: Will there be an extradition request? I asked it three times, and got the same answer three times, that it has been done. She used the word done three times. So the request for extradition has been done," he said.
Taylor has been in Nigeria since an internationally-negotiated agreement in 2003 secured his exile from Liberia. He has been accused of 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, set up in 2002 to try those behind killings during that counry's long civil conflict.
Recent news reports have raised questions about whether President Sirleaf had made a formal request to Nigeria's President Obasanjo.
Congressman Kolbe elaborated on what he said he was told by the Liberian leader:
"She went on to tell us that President (Olusegun) Obasanjo is now consulting with African leaders from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to consult with them to make sure that the extradition will not in any way destabilize the very fragile peace that exists there," he said.
In her address to Congress Wednesday, President Sirleaf had thanked Nigeria for accepting Charles Taylor, but mentioned nothing about any formal extradition request.
However, she said Liberia, in her words, had little option but to see that justice is done.
The House of Representatives approved $50 million in economic support funds for Liberia, under an amendment first approved last week by the House Appropriations Committee, submitted by Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.
In his surprise announcement Thursday, Congressman Kolbe said lawmakers will continue to watch the situation closely.