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Liberian President Quickly Returns Home After Indictment on War Crimes - 2003-06-04

Liberian President Charles Taylor has returned home from Ghana just hours after a U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone indicted him for crimes against humanity.

Mr. Taylor left Ghana by plane late Wednesday after attending the opening of peace talks to end Liberia's civil war, which started in 1999.

Hours earlier, the U.N. backed war crimes court for Sierra Leone issued an indictment against Mr. Taylor for his support of Sierra Leonean rebels during the 1990s.

A spokeswoman for the court in Sierra Leone, Hadja Camara, said the charges against Mr. Taylor are extremely serious. "His indictment accuses him of bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law within the territory of Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996," he said.

Mr. Taylor was the main supporter of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, which was known for hacking off the limbs of civilians during the country's civil war.

Prosecutors at the war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone say they timed the indictment to coincide with Mr. Taylor's travel outside Liberia. The war crimes court said it had served Ghanaian authorities with a warrant for Mr. Taylor's arrest, but no effort was made to take Mr. Taylor into custody.

Ghanaian authorities say it was an embarrassment that could disrupt the peace talks.

Mr. Taylor, who was scheduled to stay in Ghana only for the first day of talks, said he would consider relinquishing power for the sake of peace.

One of the two Liberian rebel groups boycotted the first day of peace talks, which are scheduled to last up to two weeks. Rebels who control more than half of Liberia are asking Mr. Taylor to step down.

Last month, the United Nations renewed sanctions against Mr. Taylor and his government for its continued support of rebel groups in other West African countries, which are involved in smuggling weapons and diamonds used to pay for them.

Mr. Taylor is himself a former rebel leader.