updated 6/20/2006 8:32:53 AM ET 2006-06-20T12:32:53

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was flown out of Sierra Leone by the United Nations on Tuesday ahead of his long-awaited war crimes trial, a court spokesman said.

Taylor was flown by U.N. helicopter to the airport on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital and escorted onto a plane that took off shortly afterward, said Peter Andersen, a spokesman for the war crimes court.

Andersen declined to say where the plane was headed, but the Netherlands has agreed that his trial could be held at The Hague and the last logistical hurdles for his transfer there were cleared Monday.

Taylor faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from his alleged backing of Sierra Leonean rebels, who terrorized victims by chopping off their arms, legs, ears and lips during the country’s 1991-2002 civil war.

Although the charges refer only to Sierra Leone, Taylor is also accused of fomenting violence in his homeland and elsewhere in West Africa.

UK offers prison
The Sierra Leone court had asked the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court to host the trial, fearing a revival of instability in West Africa if the trial were held there. The Sierra Leone court’s officials will conduct the proceedings, with the ICC providing courtrooms and a jail during the trial.

The Netherlands agreed to host the trial on condition that a third country jail Taylor if he is convicted or take him in if acquitted. Denmark, Austria and Sweden had all rejected requests to jail Taylor, but Britain volunteered last week.

The road to trial for Taylor began when he went into exile in Nigeria in August 2003 as part of a deal that helped end Liberia’s 14-year civil war. After the Nigerian government agreed in March to a request from Liberia’s new president to hand him over, he tried to slip away but was captured and flown to Sierra Leone.

He has been in the Special Court’s detention facilities in the Sierra Leonean capital since March 29 and pleaded not guilty at an April 3 arraignment.

Taylor launched an insurgency in Liberia in 1989, plunging the country into a civil war that led to the deaths of 200,000 people. He won a disputed presidential election in 1997, but rebels took up arms against him three years later and attacked the capital Monrovia in 2003. His flight to Nigeria finally brought calm.

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