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Liberia's President Taylor Should Be Tried, says International Court - 2003-07-07

A U.N. backed court says Liberian President Charles Taylor should still be tried for his alleged involvement in atrocities committed during the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, regardless of whether he accepts asylum in another country. The court was reacting to Mr. Taylor's announcement Sunday that he has accepted an offer of sanctuary from Nigeria as part of efforts to end Liberia's devastating four-year civil war.

The U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted President Charles Taylor on June 4, for allegedly aiding rebels from the Revolutionary United Front during Sierra Leone's civil war, which ended in 2001.

It was a notoriously brutal 10-year conflict during which rebels became known for hacking off the limbs of thousands of civilians.

Court spokesman Tom Perriello said the U.N.-backed tribunal has no intention of dropping the charges against Mr. Taylor, even though Nigeria has offered safe haven to the Liberian leader.

"We have indicted Mr. Taylor and he remains an indicted war criminal. And we will do what we can to bring him to account for that and hope he will come before the court have a chance to defend these charges in a court of law," Mr. Perriello said.

President Taylor and his Nigerian counterpart, Olusegun Obasanjo held a joint news conference Sunday in Monrovia, Liberia's war-battered capital. They said asylum in Nigeria will allow Mr. Taylor an orderly exit from power, but did not say when the LIberian leader will leave his country.

During the news conference Mr. Taylor did not mention the indictment, but President Obasanjo may well have had the Special Court in mind as he told reporters he was acting for the sake of peace in Liberia.

"Nigeria will not be harassed by anybody, by any organization, or any country for showing this humanitarian gesture, a gesture that is necessary for us to solve the problems of this country," Mr. Obasanjo said.

Nigeria is not the first country to opt against arresting Mr. Taylor and delivering him to the Special Court. Mr. Taylor was attending the opening of Liberian peace talks in Ghana the day the court announced the charges.

But Ghanaian officials, who were hosting the peace conference, said they were embarrassed at the timing of the indictment. They let the Liberian leader fly safely back to his country without taking any action.

Mr. Perriello, the Special Court spokesman, said the tribunal will take what he called "appropriate steps", if and when, Mr. Taylor leaves for Nigeria. He said the Liberian leader will not be tried in absentia.