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Ex-Liberian President May Face War Crimes Soon


Prosecutors at Sierra Leone's special war crimes court say Liberia's former warlord-turned-president, Charles Taylor, could appear before a judge very soon. Despite moves to relocate the trial to the Netherlands, Taylor will now likely have his first day in court in Sierra Leone.

The deputy prosecutor at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, Christopher Staker, says Charles Taylor's first appearance in court could come as early as next week.

"The first time Charles Taylor will appear in court will be at what is known as the initial appearance," said Mr. Staker. "Under the rules, that has to happen as soon as practicable. Normally, that is within a matter of days. We anticipate that it may be as early as Monday or Tuesday next week."

There was confusion about where Taylor would end up even before his arrest in Nigeria earlier this week. After lifting his asylum status following a request by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nigeria said it would only hand him over to Liberian authorities.

But after only a brief stopover in Liberia, Taylor was sent on to Freetown, where he is currently facing 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for backing rebels in Sierra Leone's civil war. He denies the charges.

However, despite his likely arraignment at the court in Freetown, few believe he will remain in the country for very long.

At the urging of President Sirleaf, who cited fears that Taylor's return to the region, even as a prisoner, might create instability, the court is now seeking to move his trial to The Hague.

Deputy Prosecutor Staker says that process has already begun. He says the Dutch government has already agreed to host the trial. And the special court has asked to use the facilities of the new International Criminal Court, though that body will not be involved in trying the case.

But a final decision is being left up to the U.N. Security Council, which will have a final say on the change of venue.

Staker says, what is important is not where Taylor is tried, but that it now appears he will finally face justice.

"It is an amazing feeling that is shared by the population of Sierra Leone, and certainly by everyone who works here," he added.

Taylor is accused of supporting the RUF rebel group during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. The group was notorious for training drug-addled child soldiers who went on to torture, rape, and, in thousands of cases, amputate the hands and feet of their civilian victims.

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