5 December 2003

Nigeria: Interpol Declares Charles Taylor Wanted

Abuja — We won't hand him over - FG

The International police body, Interpol, has issued a notice for the arrest of former Liberian Presi-dent Charles Taylor, currently in exile in Nigeria. The body also warned that Taylor "may be dangerous."

The declaration by Interpol followed the request by United Nations Special Court in Sierra Leone which had earlier indicted him on charges of crimes against humanity, violation of the Geneva Convention , and other charges.

But the Federal Govern-ment yesterday said it will not be harassed nor intimidated to handover the former Liberian leader.

Taylor is being accused of training rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds. The rebels engaged in torture, mutilation, rape, and abduction. They also killed thousands of civilians.

The Interpol red notice was issued in accordance with a cooperation agreement between Interpol, based in Lyon, France, and the Sierra Leone court which completed the assignment in November.

The court was established as a result of a UN Security Council resolution three years ago.

Interpol's "red notice" is not an arrest warrant but national police can use it to make a provisional arrest.

Interpol said a red notice is "used to seek the arrest with a view to extradition of subjects wanted and based upon an arrest warrant."

"Interpol member countries comply with their national laws in deciding whether a red notice represents a valid request for provisional arrest. Some countries permit the wanted person to be provisionally arrested pending extradition formalities, while others treat such a notice as a quest for information and location of the individual, with no particular legal significance.

"The existence or not of a bilateral extradition treaty, convention or other legal instrument containing provisions on extradition is an important factor in the decision," said the international law enforcement unit.

After fierce fighting recently between government forces and anti-Taylor rebels and intervention by West African leaders, he resigned from the Liberian presidency on August 11 and came to Nigeria, where he was given asylum.

President Olusegun Obasanjo said last month he would "convince" ousted Taylor to return home to face war crimes charges if authorities in his homeland make a formal request for his extradition.

The Federal Government's asylum pact with Taylor include a promise to stay out of his country's internal affairs.

However, in its reaction to the Interpol declaration, the presidency speaking through Mrs. Oluremi Oyo, Senior Special Assistant (Media) to President Obasanjo, told State House correspondents that the issue surrounding Taylor's matter was political and not what Interpol should dabble into.

Obasanjo, Oyo stated, made wide consultations before taking the decision to allow Taylor stay in Cross River State.

She, however, restated that the only condition on which Nigeria will hand over the former president is if a democratically elected government in Liberia specifically asks for Taylor.

Oyo said Nigeria, being a good player in the international community, is not going to react to Interpol's latest stance.

The presidential spokesperson said, "we do not believe that it is an Interpol issue. We believe that it is a political issue and the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria consulted very widely before he took the decision on Liberia. Therefore, the only reason why former president Charles Taylor will leave Nigeria is if a democratically elected government in Liberia asks for him. He remains a Liberian.

"And when that happens, there shall be sufficient evidence that some criminality has happened and then he will hand him over to the democratically elected government.

"Nigeria is not going to react to what Interpol has said. It remains a request for provisional arrest. Nigeria is a player in the international community. It is a good player and Nigeria will not be harassed, harangued in what ever way to hand over former President Taylor," she stated.

Meanwhile, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) has urged the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to prevail on Obasanjo to hand over Taylor to the United Nations.

In an open letter to CHOGM, the CNPP led by Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa insisted that, es Taylor does not deserve political asylum in Nigeria, (since) political asylum status is usually accorded persecuted citizens for their non-violent political views and activities."

According to the group, "this man (Taylor) is directly responsible for the death of more than 3,000 Nigerians, most of them soldiers who were in his country for peace keeping."

"The invitation for Charles Taylor to live in Nigeria in comfort is the height of insensitivity to the families of those murdered there.

"Failure to hand him over to account for his deeds at the War Crime Tribunal is in itself a war crime and therefore Obasanjo is qualified as a war criminal for this act," the coalition stated.

The CNPP also informed CHOGM that politics in Nigeria was characterised by what the group described as massive corruption, human rights abuse, abuse of the rule of law and total disregard for all known democratic values.

"There are combined evils that can lead to political and social explosion now or in the future," CNPP noted.

"The Commonwealth will have to decide now whether to turn a blind eye to all these atrocities and risk financing peace-keeping operations in Nigeria, as a result of possible internal strives in Nigeria.

"Paradoxically, the Common-wealth jealously guards its values by applying sanctions against Zimbabwe for an alleged election malpractice even though the Zimbabwean situation falls into insignificance compared to the massive rigging which happened in Nigeria during the 2003 elections.

"This was confirmed by international monitors including those from some member-states of the Commonwealth.

"Whereas election monitors in Zimbabwe were divided, with some applauding the elections while others condemned them.

"In the case of Nigeria, all election monitors, local and international condemned the election," the coalition noted.

The CNPP equally asked CHOGM to compel Obasanjo to find solution to the "deplorable economic plight of Nigerians."

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