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War Crimes Prosecutor: Former Liberian President Taylor Still a Threat

The outgoing lead prosecutor for Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal says former Liberian President Charles Taylor remains a threat to the stability of West Africa.

Prosecutor David Crane wants Charles Taylor, who was indicted two years ago on 17 counts of crimes against humanity, to be brought before the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone as soon as possible.

"Charles Taylor hangs like a dark cloud over Liberia, and he needs to be turned over to the special court for Sierra Leone. He continues to meddle, not only in Liberia, but other countries within the region," he said.

Human rights groups have called on Nigeria, where Charles Taylor now lives, to hand him to the special court. But Nigeria has said that it will not do so, unless Liberia makes the request.

Mr. Crane says the former Liberian president is in contact with the current Liberian government, and, if Liberia holds elections, there is a danger that Mr. Taylor's party could win.

Charles Taylor is accused of backing rebel movements in Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war, which left 50,000 dead.

Critics of Sierra Leone's special court say that its authority has been undermined by its failure to try the former Liberian president. Mr. Crane, who will be leaving his post in July, says that he is proud of the accomplishments of the special court, where he has served for three years. He says Nigeria's decision to give asylum to Charles Taylor in 2003, when rebels besieged the Liberian capital, must be seen in context.

"This was a political arrangement to get Charles Taylor out of Liberia, to ensure that peace could start," he said. "That is something I called for during my press conference, when I unsealed the indictment against him. And again, this is all part of a process. The peace has begun in Liberia, but now it's time for justice."

A researcher for the Washington-based monitoring group, Human Rights Watch, Corinne Dufka, says it should have been made clear from the start that Mr. Taylor's Nigerian asylum was temporary.

However, Ms. Dufka commends the general success of the war crimes tribunal, which she says has renewed Sierra Leoneans' faith in justice. She says that, for the first time, with the special court, you have people who are government ministers and people who have wielded a tremendous amount of power who are being brought to justice for their crimes.

Human rights groups want the United Nations to put more pressure on West African countries to hand over Mr. Taylor to the court. Thousands of rebels and militia fighters have been disarmed in Sierra Leone, which has become one of the United Nations' biggest peacekeeping successes in Africa.