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US Says Action Near to Shift Taylor Trial to Hague

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Thursday, the U.N. Security Council is close to adopting a resolution moving the war crimes case of former Liberian President Charles Taylor from Sierra Leone to The Hague. He says the action could come by the end of the week.

The United States was quick to endorse the request by the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal for Sierre Leone to move the Charles Taylor case to The Hague because of security considerations.

Ambassador Bolton, who has had a lead role in consultations for an enabling resolution, told State Department reporters he thinks a Security Council decision is imminent.

"I am hoping that we will have a Security Council resolution this week that effects the transfer of Taylor to The Hague, and sets up the arrangements, whereby the special court in Sierra Leone will be able to prosecute him there. I think, we are very close, as I said. I would hope by the end of this week, we would have that resolved," he said.

The former Liberian president faces 11 counts of war crimes charges for supporting the brutal rebel movement in Sierra Leone that raped and mutilated civilians during a 10-year civil conflict that left some 50,000 people dead.

The Sierra Leone tribunal asked for the venue change last week, citing fears the trial might spark unrest in Sierra Leone, or neighboring Liberia. Despite the move, the trial would remain under the jurisdiction of the African court.

Taylor, who was arrested in late March after an attempt to flee Nigeria, where he had been given temporary refuge, made his first appearance before the court in Freetown Monday. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges, while also challenging the legality of the tribunal.

On another African issue, Ambassador Bolton said the United States is actively investigating a "substantial number" of persons who may be responsible for crimes in Sudan's western Darfur region and subject to sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.

But he said there should be solid evidence for such a designation, otherwise, the credibility of the U.N. would suffer.

Bolton made the comment in response to a question about news reports Wednesday that the United States had opposed the inclusion of several Sudanese government officials on a list of sanction candidates proposed by Britain.

The ambassador did not respond to specifics of the reports, but said the United States is working on a sanctions list with Britain, among others, and wants to be sure of the facts in each case.

"As we have gone back and forth with some other governments, the British in particular, we are looking at the evidence that we have, and we are looking at the evidence they have. And when it's sufficient for us to make a decision, we are prepared to move forward. We are eager to move forward. It has been a year since this sanctions provision was created. It has not yet been exercised. We think it should be exercised. We just want to make sure we have the facts straight," he said.

Bolton indicated that the sanctions list could include figures from the Sudanese government, the Arab "Janjaweed" militiamen, who have waged war in Darfur on the government's behalf, and Darfur rebels. All of them, at various times, have been accused of atrocities in the three-year-old Darfur conflict.

The U.N. envoy said, while the process of identifying individual war crimes figures has been slowed by bureaucratic issues, he said the Bush administration knows what the "big picture" is on the violence in Darfur.

That is why, he said, it is pushing hard for the transformation of the African Union observer force in Darfur into a full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping operation.