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US Welcomes Interpol's Arrest Warrant Against Charles Taylor

The United States has welcomed the call by the international police organization Interpol for the arrest of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. But it is also avoiding any criticism of Nigeria for refusing the immediate hand over of Mr. Taylor to the U.N.-backed special court in Sierra Leone.

The State Department says the so-called "red notice" by Interpol calling for the arrest of Charles Taylor is a sign of growing international interest in the case, and gives authorities another tool in helping bring him to justice.

But at the same time, officials here are expressing understanding for Nigeria's decision not to hand him over at least for the time being, while an appeal by Mr. Taylor's lawyers of the Sierra Leone court's jurisdiction remains pending.

Mr. Taylor has effectively been under house arrest at a villa in southeastern Nigeria since he went into exile last August as part of a Liberian peace deal supported by the United States.

The Bush administration has maintained that the former president should eventually answer the war crimes charges brought against him by the Sierra Leone court.

At a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli reiterated U.S. gratitude for Nigeria's decision to accept Mr. Taylor and help avert additional bloodshed in Liberia. He said its refusal to immediately extradite him does not mean it does not share the U.S. interest in having the former leader face justice.

"We and Nigeria share an interest in seeing Charles Taylor brought to justice for his actions," he said. "Access that involves a lot of steps, a lot of legal steps. This is one of the pieces of the puzzle. If there's not action taken immediately in response to this, one should not draw the conclusion that people are somehow unwilling, or have lost their commitment to seeing Charles Taylor brought to justice."

Charles Taylor was indicted last June for crimes against humanity by the Sierra Leone Court for supporting rebels who killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people in the West African country in the late 1990s.

His lawyers are challenging the indictment on grounds that he had immunity from such charges as a head of state, and that the Sierra Leone court lacks jurisdiction over those outside that country.

Judges in the U.N.-backed court are expected to make a decision on the Taylor appeal within weeks.

In the meantime, a senior diplomat here told reporters the Bush administration prefers that the former president remains where he is.

He said if by some chance Mr. Taylor was extradited now and then won his court appeal, he could be in position to de-stabilize the delicate situation in Liberia, and possibly slip away and avoid potential prosecution for years of mis-rule in his own country.

Interpol's "red notice" issued Thursday in France is not a formal arrest warrant, but urges member states to follow their own laws in deciding if the wanted person is to be provisionally arrested pending extradition.