Former Liberian warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor is being transferred to The Hague for a war crimes trial. Taylor's presence in Freetown has been seen by some West African leaders as a threat to regional security.
Early Tuesday, a helicopter departed from the headquarters of the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown. It carried former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's bloody decade-long civil war.
He was transferred to a chartered plane at the capital city's international airport and was on his way to The Hague.
Peter Andersen, a spokesman for the Special Court, spoke with VOA from the airport shortly after Taylor's departure.
"The Security Council resolution on Friday, along with the headquarters agreement with the Dutch authorities provided a legal groundwork for doing that for the transfer," he explained. "The president of the Special Court, Justice Gelaga King, issued an order that he be transferred. And that was done today."
Prosecutors in Sierra Leone had sought to bring Taylor before the court for several years. In March, Nigeria, which had granted asylum to the former Liberian leader under a deal to end Liberia's own civil war, agreed to hand him over.
But West African leaders, including Liberia's recently-elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, voiced concerns that Taylor's presence in Freetown constituted a threat to regional security. And though the Netherlands agreed to provide a venue for the trial, it was not until last week when the United Kingdom agreed to jail Taylor, if he is found guilty, that the path was cleared for a change of venue.
"I think that within Sierra Leone, and probably within the Special Court, many people would have liked to have seen him tried in Sierra Leone," Andersen said. "But we are an international court. We are not a Sierra Leonean court, so we have to listen to the voices of the international community."
Taylor has had an initial hearing in Freetown, during which he pled innocent to the charges against him. It is unclear when the trial will resume in The Hague.
The Special Court's Andersen says Taylor's next appearance before a judge will not likely be soon.
"I think it is going to be some time. I would say, just to give the defense an adequate time to prepare, that were still probably several months away," he said.
Taylor is facing 11 counts, including the use of child soldiers, sexual slavery, and rape.