This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: FG Terminates Taylor's Asylum

Abuja — Says Liberian Govt free to take ex-warlord into custody

The Federal Government yesterday consented to the request of the new Liberian President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that the country's ex-leader, Charles Taylor, who has been in exile in Nigeria since 2003, should be released to the government in Monrovia.

A statement from the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media Matters, Mrs Oluremi Oyo, which announced the Federal Governmrnt's decision explained that "President Olusegun Obasanjo has today March 25th informed President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that the Government of Liberia is free to take former President Charles Taylor into its Custody ".

President Obasanjo's decision to handover Taylor to Sirleaf is coming on the heels of his scheduled visit to the United States where he would meet with President George Bush on Wednesday in Washington.

THISDAY checks reveal that the presidency may have announced Taylor's release ahead of the President's meeting with Bush to buttress Nigeria's long held position that she has always been ready to release the ex-warlord based on a formal request from President Johnson-Sirleaf.

Johnson-Sirleaf had on March 5 formally requested that Taylor's asylum in Nigeria be terminated and the ex-warlord handed over to the authorities in Liberia to face war-crime charges at a UN-backed court in Sierra Leone.

Obasanjo, however, promised to discuss the request with other regional leaders within the African Union (AU).

Presidency officials who spoke with THISDAY on telephone yesterday however maintained that the federal government's decision to release Taylor to Johnson-Sirleaf at this time has nothing to do with Obasanjo's scheduled visit to the US where he is billed to meet with Bush. According to a Presidency official, "Mr President is travelling to the US to attend a Summit that has been on his diary for long and it has nothing to do with Taylor."

Mrs Oyo's statement explained the Presidency's position further by stating that: "Considering the invol-vement of the African Union and ECOWAS in the arrangement which resulted in the voluntary relinquishing of office by President Charles Taylor and his abode in Nigeria in 2003, President Obasanjo consulted the current and past Chairmen of the AU and ECOWAS. (on the Liberian government's request for the release of Taylor).

"It should be recalled that at the time, the understanding among those involved in the arrangement was that the departure of Charles Taylor was a pre-requisite for the implementation of the just concluded Accra Compre-hensive Peace Agreement on Liberia, but that both the AU and ECOWAS could not hand over President Charles Taylor to the Sierra Leone Special Court as rather precipitately demanded by the Court's prosecutor "

The Presidency statement also hinted that during the consultations by Obasanjo over the Liberian governement's request for Taylor's release, other African Heads of State raised concern over the timing of the request and implication for continued peace in Liberia.

With this release, it means that Taylor would be taken away by the Liberian authorities and possibly sent directly to Sierra Leone, where a U.N.-backed court is waiting to try him on 17-count charges of alleged war crimes. This include his reported role in aiding Sierra Leone's rebels during the 1991-2001 bloody civil war in that country.

The Nigerian government had granted Taylor asylum to help end the 1989-2003 civil war which almost ruined Liberia totally. Obasanjo was in fact commended then for brokering peace and lately helping to restore democracy to the war-torn country.

However, pressures from the international community, especially from the US had been mounting on Obasanjo to release Taylor for trial in the UN war crime court in Sierra Leone.

Obasanjo has consistently maintained that he would only accede to any request to give up Taylor from a democratically elected Liberian leader, a request made by Johnson-Sirleaf who was early in the year sworn-in as the first elected African woman President. She had defeated world renowned footballer, George Weah in an election whch went on to a second ballot.

The federal government's statement yesterday further explained thus: "Since 2003, the Federal Government of Nigeria has resisted persistent pressures to violate the understanding of 2003 and to deliver Charles Taylor to the Sierra Leone Special Court. Rather, the Federal Gover-nment has insisted that Charles Taylor can only be turned over, on request, to a democratically elected government of Liberia at a time that such a Gove-rnment considers appropriate.

"The request of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in her letter of 5th March constituted her determination that the time was opportune. With no substantive objection other than timing and continued peace in Liberia raised by those other Heads of State involved in the 2003 arrangement, President Olusegun Obasanjo has today March 25th informed President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that the Government of Liberia is free to take former President Charles Taylor into its custody."

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