Liberia has formally requested the extradition of former president Charles Taylor, who is living in exile in Nigeria and is indicted for war crimes, the Nigerian presidency said in a statement on Friday.
Taylor agreed to step down and take asylum in Nigeria in 2003 as part of a peace deal ending 14 years of civil war in Liberia, but he was indicted for war crimes by a special U.N.-backed court in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is consulting with the African Union and regional bloc ECOWAS on how to respond to the request, the statement added.
Nigeria considers request
“In keeping with his commitment to give consideration to any formal request from a democratically elected government of Liberia for the return of former president Charles Taylor, President Olusegun Obasanjo has duly notified the chairmen of the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that President (Ellen) Johnson-Sirleaf has made such a request,” the statement said.
Obasanjo will take a decision on the extradition based on the views of the two regional groups, the statement said.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has also been informed, it added.
Johnson-Sirleaf has faced growing international pressure to bring to justice the man many Liberians blame for fuelling a civil war that cost a quarter of a million lives, left the country in ruins, and spilled over into neighboring states.
But the case poses a problem for Johnson-Sirleaf, who took office as Africa’s first elected female president in January, because the former warlord still has supporters at home and his ex-wife Jewel is an elected senator in Liberia’s Congress.
Taylor’s spokesman in Nigeria, Sylvester Paasewe, accused the United States of being behind what he called the “indecent proposal."
He said it put African leaders in a precarious position because they had agreed in 2003 to quash the indictment as part of the deal which brought Taylor to Nigeria and ended the war.
“African leaders know that the whole matter is an outlay of U.S. foreign policy which is hinged on pre-emptive diplomacy which often carries with it the bane of regime change,” he told Reuters by telephone from the southeastern city of Calabar.
“I hope African leaders will throw off the yoke of neocolonialism and insist that AU and ECOWAS remain the pre-eminent voice in the affairs of Africa, as the EU is in Europe.”
Johnson-Sirleaf is currently on an official visit to the United States. Her information minister had on Monday denied any formal extradition request, saying that the issue was raised for consultation in a “briefing note."
War crime trial questioned
Taylor’s spokesman has said that any trial would threaten the stability of Liberia as it seeks to recover from the devastating conflict.
Campaign group Human Rights Watch said Obasanjo had no reason to take the issue to the AU and ECOWAS because Liberia had an elected government and Obasanjo had previously said he would hand over Taylor if such a request was made.
“They’re changing the goalpost here and that’s very worrisome. This contradicts previous statements by Obasanjo,” said Corinne Dufka, Liberia and Sierra Leone researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The death in custody at the weekend of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has increased calls for those accused of war crimes to be swiftly tried and sentenced.