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Liberian President Taylor Avoids Arrest In Ghana, UN Court Expresses Regret - 2003-06-05


A U-N backed court in Sierra Leone has expressed its regret that Liberian President Charles Taylor was not arrested while he attended the start of Liberian peace talks in Ghana. The court indicted Mr. Taylor Wednesday, when he was in Accra, for crimes against humanity for his support of rebels in Sierra Leone's civil war. The court did not give Ghana any warning that the indictment was coming.

A spokesman for the U-N backed war crimes court for Sierra Leone, David Hecht, acknowledges that he did not alert Ghanaian authorities that the court planned to indict Mr. Taylor.

He says, "I think the concern was that if you'd advise them before, then the word might have been leaked out and he might not have come. Charles Taylor might not have come to the peace talks so we could have jeopardized them in that way. So I don't think we wanted to be bringing a long document beforehand, but we certainly unsealed the indictment and got the document to them for his transfer and his arrest at a time which would have been possible for them to have held him but they decided not to do that."

Instead, Mr. Taylor was allowed to fly back to Liberia. He also addressed Liberians from Ghana on state radio, telling them not to be afraid, since he would be returning.

At the opening ceremony of the first ever peace talks with Liberian rebels since the four-year insurgency began, Mr. Taylor said he would consider stepping down for the sake of peace when his current term expires next year.

The peace talks began in earnest Thursday. Working sessions under the mediation of the Economic Community of West African states are taking place in the capital Accra and several other locations. Conditions for a possible cease-fire are expected to be the primary topic of the talks, which may last up to two weeks.

Rebels now control more than half of Liberia. Mr. Taylor, who is himself a former rebel leader, accuses the governments of Ivory Coast and Guinea of backing Liberian rebels.

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.

During the 1990s, Mr. Taylor was the main backer of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, which was notorious for hacking off the limbs of civilians.