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West African leaders call for review of Taylor's asylum deal

[Liberia] Liberian President Charles Taylor.
President Charles Taylor has promised to step down next Monday (AP)

The leaders of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have publicly asked Nigeria to review the asylum deal which stands between former Liberian president Charles Taylor and a trial to face charges of crimes against humanity.

Accusations have been mounting that onetime warlord Taylor, currently holed up in a luxury compound in the remote town of Calabar in the Niger Delta, has been violating the terms of his exile agreement that was drawn up in August 2003 and helped end Liberia's 14-year civil war.

"(We) agreed to suggest to the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that there may now be need for a review of the terms of the temporary stay granted to Charles Taylor," Liberian interim leader Gyude Bryant, Guinean Prime Minister Cellou Diallo and Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah said in a joint statement, a copy of which was obtained by IRIN.

The three leaders met in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, last week.

A UN-backed court in the same city wants to try Taylor on 17 counts of crimes against humanity perpetrated in Sierra Leone's civil war, which officially ended early in 2002.

The former Liberian leader is accused of funding the Revolutionary United Front campaign, keeping the rebels stocked with guns and ammunition in exchange for smuggled diamonds.

The joint statement from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which came to light over the weekend, made reference to a number of recent allegations that, if true, would violate Taylor's exile agreement.

It noted accusations that Taylor had been involved in an assassination attempt on Guinea President Lansana Conte in January 2005, that he had been backing armed groups in Liberia and making telephone calls to senior government officials there as the country prepares for crunch October elections designed to return it to democracy.

The three leaders raised the possibility of Nigeria referring the matter to the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) if needed.

The question of Taylor's asylum has cropped up with increasing frequency for Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

US President George W. Bush referred to it at the White House earlier this year, international rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have launched campaigns to bring Taylor to justice, and UN human rights chief Louise Arbour last month called for him to stand trial.

Obasanjo has always said he would hand Taylor over, should a future elected government in Liberia ever decide to press charges and demand his extradition. Liberians go to the polls on 11 October to vote in new leaders, but whoever wins will not take power until January.

Nigerian officials were not immediately available for comment on Monday on the joint statement.

Taylor, after training as a guerrilla fighter in Libya, launched a bush war in Liberia on Christmas Day 1989. His faction gained the upper hand and he was finally elected president in 1997 but it was to be another six years before the war finally ended.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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