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Charles Taylor Faces War Crimes Court

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes this week in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The former warlord-turned-president is accused of supporting the Revolutionary United Front rebels during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war. The rebel group was notorious for training child solders who went on to torture, rape, and in thousands of cases amputate the hands and feet of their civilian victims.

Even before his arrest in Nigeria last week, there was confusion about where Taylor would end up. Nigeria had lifted his asylum status and handed him over to Liberian authorities on the request of the new Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. From there, Taylor was sent to a U.N.-backed Special Court in Freetown. But officials in both Liberia and Sierra Leone question whether any government in the region can provide the security needed to hold Taylor. They note that he once successfully escaped from a prison in the United States, and just last week he fled his guarded government compound in Nigeria before being apprehended near the border with Cameroon. President Johnson-Sirleaf has requested his transfer to The Hague.

Liberian journalist Frank Sainworla of Radio Veritas in Monrovia says Liberians have mixed feelings about whether Mr. Taylor should ultimately face trial in Freetown or The Hague. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Sainworla noted that Liberia has a young democracy and a very fragile security situation. And he said most Liberians feel the environment is not conducive to a free and fair trial. He added that, although many people in Sierra Leone are skeptical about the “process” of the war crimes court in The Hague, they are most concerned that Mr. Taylor “pay the price for the crimes he committed,” which will serve as a deterrent to others.

Sierra Leonean journalist Andrew Kromah, who recently returned to Freetown after conducting an opinion poll outside the capital, said Mr. Taylor’s trial has the overwhelming support of the public. They are satisfied that he is being brought to justice but concerned over issues of security.

Nigerian journalist Sunday Dare also suggested that, based on reactions following Mr. Taylor’s brief disappearance from Nigerian custody and his subsequent arrest, most Nigerians think the wily former Liberian president should be made to account for his crimes. And most important, the trial should serve as a “lesson for other leaders.” Mr. Dare added that Charles Taylor’s critics want the accused to pay “some kind of restitution.” He contrasted the current situation with that during the war in Rwanda.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to put forward a resolution on a change of venue for the trial to The Hague.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.