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Human Rights Groups: Taylor Stirring Up New West African Trouble

Charles Taylor (file photo)
Human rights advocates are renewing accusations that former Liberian leader Charles Taylor is creating instability in West Africa from exile in Nigeria, where they say he has built an illicit financial network. They are asking that he be turned over to a war crimes court before October elections in Liberia.

New York-based Human Rights Watch and the Washington-based Coalition for International Justice are two of the groups that allege there is evidence of new wrongdoing by Mr. Taylor.

They are asking for international pressure, including from the U.N. Security Council, to force Nigeria to hand over the former Liberian leader to the Special Court for War Crimes in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Taylor denies charges that he funded rebel fighters during Sierra Leone's civil war.

Nigeria's government gave Mr. Taylor sanctuary two years ago to end Liberia's civil war, and asked him not to meddle in regional affairs. It said it would only consider handing him over to an elected Liberian government.

But the co-author of a report for the Coalition for International Justice, Shaoli Sarkar, accuses Mr. Taylor of getting money into and out of his home in southeastern Nigeria to fund criminal activities in neighboring countries.

She alleges that some of his income is from the Liberian Lone Star cell phone network. Numbers were previously routed through Monaco in a complicated arrangement established by Mr. Taylor. Numbers now have a Liberian country code, but Mrs. Sarkar says Mr. Taylor is still behind the company.

"And there is evidence that he has been funding some armed militias in the region. There is also the assassination attempt on Conte, the Guinean president in January, which Taylor is directly linked to," she said.

Her report alleges that the wives of Mr. Taylor's confidantes are taking money to and from his villa, bypassing U.N. travel sanctions on their husbands. Some of the candidates in Liberia's October presidential election have admitted receiving funding from Mr. Taylor.

All these activities, Mrs. Sarkar says, violate Nigeria's terms for Mr. Taylor's asylum.

"When he was exiled to Nigeria in August 2003, the agreement was that he would not interfere in Liberian politics, that he would not travel outside of Nigeria, and that he would not be a threat to peace and security," she noted.

On Tuesday, prosecutors for the Special Court in Sierra Leone told the United Nations Security Council that Mr. Taylor is working with the al-Qaida terror network and wants to destabilize West Africa.

A human rights activist in Liberia, Ezekiel Pajibo, says Mr. Taylor should be handed over to the Sierra Leone court before the Liberian election. He says the exiled leader is trying to influence the vote so the next government will not force him to trial.

"He has been involved in trying to undermine the peace process in Liberia. And some of the ways in which he's trying to do that is to support the political parties that will ensure that he does not go to Freetown," he said.

Earlier this month, the U.S House of Representatives approved a resolution demanding that Mr. Taylor be turned over to the court. And President Bush has brought up the matter with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Under this type of pressure, Nigerian officials have started to loosen their stance. One Nigerian official at the United Nations was recently quoted as saying Mr. Taylor will not be allowed to continue taking cover in Nigeria if it is proven he has violated the terms of his asylum.