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Nigeria Under Pressure to Hand Over Charles Taylor

The leaders of Nigeria and Liberia are expected to discuss the fate of former Liberian President Charles Taylor at a meeting in Abuja late Friday. The Nigerian leader is facing increased pressure to surrender Mr. Taylor to face trial at the Special Court in Sierra Leone.

Ahead of President Olusegun Obasanjo's Friday meeting with Liberia's newly elected president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, in Abuja, hundreds of human rights groups have called on the Nigerian leader to hand over Charles Taylor to the U.N. tribunal.

A movement called the Campaign Against Impunity has brought together more than 300 African and international civil society groups to press for Mr.Taylor's surrender to the Special Court in Sierra Leone.

The Special Court has accused Charles Taylor of 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The crimes include killings, mutilations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, the recruitment and use of child soldiers and the use of forced labour by armed opposition groups.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established in 2002 to prosecute those most responsible for crimes committed during Sierra Leone's armed conflict.

Nigeria in 2003 offered to take in Charles Taylor to smooth the way for a peaceful transition in Liberia. So far President Obasanjo has ruled out handing Mr. Taylor over to the Special Court, but he says he may consider such a request if it comes from an elected Liberian government.

Mr. Obasanjo met with Charles Taylor last weekend at the Lagos airport.

Abdul Oroh, a member of Nigeria's House of Representatives and chairman of the House Committee on Human Rights, supports the government's position.

"I am absolutely persuaded by the government's argument that releasing Charles Taylor for trial, at least before the elections in Liberia, would definitely have created a lot of complications or if not threaten the fragile peace in that country," he said. "It may well be that even the elections would have been impossible. Now that they have a democratically elected government, that government needs time to settle down. I don't think the international community should create a kind of stampede in this situation because when the war in Liberia started, they did nothing."

Presidents Obasanjo and Johnson-Sirleaf are expected to discuss post-war reconstruction in Liberia. Nigeria, the regional super power, played a critical role in restoring peace in Liberia. A Nigerian army general has been apointed to head Liberia's armed forces. Liberia will be hoping to secure further assistance from Nigeria.