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Bush, Obasanjo Welcome Arrest of Liberia's Taylor


The White House has welcomed the arrest by Nigerian police of former Liberian President and rebel leader Charles Taylor. Taylor arrived in Liberia en route to Sierra Leone shortly after President Bush sat down for talks Wednesday with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

When President Obasanjo arrived in Washington Tuesday evening, Charles Taylor was missing. By the time the Nigerian leader met with President Bush the next morning, everything had changed.

Taylor's disappearance was dramatic and relatively brief. Less than 24 hours after he disappeared from his place of exile in Nigeria, he was captured trying to cross the border into Cameroon. Nigerian police say he was picked up in a vehicle with diplomatic license plates and bags of cash.

President Obasanjo speaks of the arrest in terms of "divine intervention." As he wrapped up his talks with President Bush, he told reporters that at that very moment a plane carrying Charles Taylor was about to land on Liberian soil.

He left no doubt he was aware of the comments of critics, including a few prominent members of Congress, who charged Tuesday that Nigerian negligence allowed Taylor to slip away. He said Nigeria has proved them wrong.

"If we had been negligent, then Charles Taylor would have gotten away. He would not have been arrested," he said.

Charles Taylor was granted asylum in Nigeria three years ago under a deal designed to end 14 years of civil war in Liberia. Meanwhile, an international tribunal in Freetown charged him with 17 counts of crimes against humanity for his support of rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone known for their brutal tactics against civilians.

The newly elected president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently asked Nigeria to extradite Taylor, and on Saturday President Obasanjo agreed. President Bush, who met with Mrs. Sirleaf last week, told the Nigerian leader he is pleased that Taylor will face justice.

"I appreciate the decision you made regarding Charles Taylor," said Mr. Bush. "During my visit last week with the president of Liberia, we talked about Charles Taylor, the fact that Charles Taylor will be brought to justice in a court of law will help Liberia and signal, Mr. President, your deep desire for there to be peace in your neighborhood."

Later, President Bush suggested the Charles Taylor trial might be moved from Sierra Leone to another country, most likely the Netherlands. At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormick confirmed discussions are underway on a possible change of venue, saying the goal is to find a location that could handle a trial of this magnitude. However, he emphasized jurisdiction would remain with the Freetown tribunal, which would simply try the case at a different site.