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US Lawmakers: Nigeria Must Send Former Liberian President Taylor to Special Court

The U.S. House of Representatives is calling on the government of Nigeria to turn former Liberian president Charles Taylor over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Approval of a resolution comes ahead of a scheduled meeting between Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Bush later this week, and amid the latest comments by the chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone about Mr. Taylor's activities.

Sponsored by House Democrats and Republicans, the resolution calls Charles Taylor a serious present and continuing threat to political stability in Liberia and West Africa, and to U.S. interests in the region.

Nigeria, it says, should expeditiously transfer him to the jurisdiction of the Special Court in Freetown where he can be tried for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international law.

Several lawmakers took to the floor of the House to review allegations against Mr. Taylor.

One of them is Congressman Ed Royce, a former chairman of the House [of Representatives] Subcommittee on Africa.

"Charles Taylor remains a serious and continuing threat to West Africa peace and security, which is counter to U.S. interests as well,” he said. “I am hopeful that Nigerian President Obasanjo does the right thing and hands Charles Taylor over to the special court. Among others, the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the Nigerian Bar Association have criticized the exile deal. President Obasanjo is in Washington this week. By passing this resolution there will be no question as to where the U.S. House of Representatives stands."

Congressman Tom Lantos is the top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.

"I see absolutely no reason why Nigeria should continue to offer Charles Taylor undeserved sanctuary so that he can once again pull together a criminal network to terrorize the people of West Africa," said Mr. Lantos.

The resolution recalls Nigeria's past statements that it would not tolerate violations by Mr. Taylor of conditions for his exile. These include a prohibition on active communications with anyone engaged in political, illegal or governmental activities in Liberia.

But concerns go beyond Liberia, against the background of new information lawmakers have received about activities in West Africa that may have supported terrorist groups such as al-Qaida.

Congresswoman Susan Kelly spoke to that issue.

“It has now come to the surface that al-Qaida operatives, both before and after September 11 [2001] have viewed West Africa as an effective sanctuary, and as a place to launder money,” she explained. “Evidence suggests that Taylor himself was personally involved in serving as a middleman between al-Qaida and West Africa's multi-million dollar diamond trade.”

The House resolution regarding Charles Taylor is called concurrent, which means it expresses the opinions or feelings of lawmakers on particular subjects, and is not sent to the president for signature.

Nigeria's President Obasanjo is scheduled to meet with President Bush this week for bilateral and broader talks expected to include Liberia.

David Crane, the chief prosecutor of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, has said Mr. Taylor has remained in contact with his political network in Liberia, while using warlords and cronies to keep West Africa in a state of turmoil.