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Some in Liberia, Sierra Leone Concerned About Taylor Handover Request

Liberia's request for Nigeria to extradite former President Charles Taylor has raised concerns that such a move could fuel instability in Liberia. In neighboring Sierra Leone, where Taylor faces trial by a special U.N.-backed tribunal for war crimes, there is hope his testimony could shed light on the causes of the war there.

Many Liberians are concerned that a hasty extradition to Liberia or transfer to the Special Court in Sierra Leone, where Taylor faces charges, may destabilize Liberia.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo offered Taylor asylum in 2003 to bring Liberia's civil war to an end. Now, Nigeria's government says it is considering the extradition request, although there is no timeframe for such a move.

A former Taylor supporter and interim Liberian president, Moses Blah, says he is surprised about the timing of the request from Liberia's new president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Mr. Blah tells VOA, Taylor still has many supporters in Liberia who are likely to cause trouble, if he is sent to Sierra Leone.

But human rights campaigner Ezekiel Pajibo tells VOA it is important to try the former warlord turned president swiftly, to send out the signal that no-one is above the law. He says Taylor's supporters are opposed to his transfer, because they fear it may open the door to their being tried in the future, as well.

The security spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Liberia, Anders Johanssen, says he does not anticipate any violence in Liberia. He says peacekeepers have not seen any change in the security situation in Liberia in recent days, and have no plans to increase their street presence.

There have been reports of several Taylor supporters being taken in for questioning by police, but they have since been released.

Meanwhile, Sierra Leoneans are mostly looking forward to Taylor's possible transfer to the special court. After the former rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, died of a stroke while in the court's custody, and other senior rebels disappeared, Taylor would be the first high-profile case to be heard.

Sierra Leone journalist Samuel John says, this would shed light on some of the causes of the war in Sierra Leone.

"Everybody's looking forward to the testimony of Charles Taylor, because he has been accused of steering the war in Sierra Leone," said Mr. John. "I think, now that Foday Sankoh is dead, we can hear the truth from Charles Taylor."

Taylor does not face any charges in Liberia. However, he is wanted by the Special Court in Sierra Leone, which is a collaboration between the United Nations and the local judiciary to try people involved in the civil war, which was marked by the maiming of civilians. Taylor is charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and recruiting and using child soldiers. He denies the charges.

Special assistant to the prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone Harpinder Adhwal says her team has a strong case.

"We're delighted, we're absolutely delighted at the prospect of finally being able to receive him, and continue with his case," she said. "However, at this stage, there still is no date. We have a lot of information that consultations are under way, and discussions are under way. Now, we would actually like to see him transferred to the special court."

In coming to power to Liberia, as well as in backing rebellions in western Ivory Coast and parts of Guinea, Taylor was also accused of trading weapons for natural resources, and using child soldiers. Human rights activists throughout West Africa say a Taylor trial could help end impunity in the war-wrecked region.