The whereabouts of exiled former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is wanted for war crimes by a court in Sierra Leone, were being kept secret on Monday as rumors intensified he had left his house.
Nigerian authorities and a spokesman for Taylor declined to say anything about the location of the former warlord, who went into exile in the southeastern Nigerian city of Calabar in 2003 as part of a deal to end a 14-year civil war in his country.
Nigeria said on Saturday the government of Liberia was free to take Taylor into custody but it has not given any details on when and how this would happen.
Taylor’s spokesman Sylvester Paasewe, who late on Saturday called Reuters to say the former warlord was in his villa in Calabar, refused to answer questions about Taylor on Monday.
“I am not telling you anything about him,” Paasewe said in response to question about Taylor’s whereabouts.
A spokeswoman for Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said she had no information about where Taylor was.
Civil wars' mastermind
Taylor is seen as the mastermind behind once intertwined civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the special U.N.-backed court wants to try him for supporting brutal rebels in exchange for diamonds that financed the Liberian conflict.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia’s first post-war president who took office in January, had asked Nigeria to consider handing over Taylor so he could stand trial at the Sierra Leone court.
Human Rights Watch on Sunday urged Nigeria to swiftly transfer Taylor to the Sierra Leone court as there were fears he may escape.
Nigeria is playing a complicated diplomatic game. It has been under intense pressure, notably from the United States, to send Taylor to stand trial, but President Olusegun Obasanjo does not want to be seen as going back on his word given in 2003 giving him safe haven.
Obasanjo, who has mediated in a number of West African conflicts, is an advocate of African solutions to African problems and he wants to avoid giving the impression that he caved in to pressure from Washington.
An adviser to Obasanjo, who did not wish to be named, said the Nigerian government’s plan was to have Taylor out of the country before Obasanjo travels to Washington on Tuesday for a meeting with President Bush on Wednesday.
The adviser did not give any details on how this would work or where Taylor would be taken.
The prosecutor of the U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone said on Sunday he had asked Obasanjo to have Taylor arrested to prevent him escaping, but the Nigerian president’s spokeswoman Remi Oyo said the request had not been received.
“We have not received the request. He (the prosecutor) is playing games in the media. When we receive it we will respond appropriately,” she said.