Liberian president indicted for war crimes

A UN backed court indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor today for war crimes, accusing him of “the greatest responsibility” in a vicious ten year rebel terror campaign in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

A UN backed court indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor today for war crimes, accusing him of “the greatest responsibility” in a vicious ten year rebel terror campaign in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Taylor, a warlord-turned-president, has long been accused by the UN of arming Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front, which killed, raped, kidnapped and maimed tens of thousands of civilians in the 1990s as it battled for control of Sierra Leone’s diamond fields.

The indictment, issued by a joint UN-Sierra Leone court, accused Taylor of “bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

“My office was given an international mandate by the United Nations and the Republic of Sierra Leone to follow the evidence impartially wherever it leads,” the court’s American prosecutor, David Crane, said. “It has led us unequivocally to Taylor.”

The court issued an arrest warrant for Taylor in Ghana, where he was making a rare trip out of his own country to attend peace talks with Liberian rebels.

Ghana authorities said they had yet to receive the warrant, and there was no evident move at the talks to arrest Taylor.

Minutes after the indictment was made public, Taylor appeared at the talks’ opening ceremony in Accra, Ghana’s capital.

Looking tense, Taylor stepped away from his motorcade and walked slowly into the conference hall with other West African officials.

Inside, Taylor told delegates he intended to leave office as soon as the end of his presidential term – a term whose length the autocratic Liberian leader has left undefined.

“If President Taylor is seen as a problem, then I will remove myself,” Taylor told delegates. “I’m doing this because I’m tired of the people dying. I can no longer see this genocide in Liberia,” Taylor said – referring to Liberia’s own, increasingly fierce three-year-old civil war.

“It has become apparent that some people believe that Taylor is the problem,” Taylor said, speaking of himself in the third person. “President Taylor wants to say that he intends to remove himself from the process.”

Taylor has spoken of elections later this year, but Liberia has not set a date.

Taylor won Liberia’s presidency in a democratic election in 1997, after emerging as the strongest warlord in Liberia’s own 1989-96 civil war.

Taylor, a former Boston, Massachusetts petrol station attendant and prison escapee, had launched that civil war with a failed coup attempt in 1989. The war killed hundreds of thousands in Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century.

Taylor today is under sanctions for what the United Nations says is continuing gun-running and other trafficking with West Africa’s many rebel movements.

The sanctions include a ban on travel outside of Liberia for Taylor. It was not clear if the trip to the Ghana peace talks violated the travel ban.

The indictment, and arrest warrant, set up a potential showdown between prosecutors of the UN endorsed court and Taylor.

Ghana President John Kufuor, the talks’ host, was widely expected to be reluctant to allow Taylor to be taken into custody in Ghana, likely seeing Taylor as his invited guest for the talks.

Crane, the prosecutor, made clear the indictment was timed to Taylor’s trip out of Liberia. In Liberia, Taylor’s security forces could be expected to protect him from arrest.

“The timing of this announcement was carefully considered in light of the important peace process begun this week,” Crane said, adding: “To ensure the legitimacy of these negotiations, it is imperative that the attendees know they are dealing with an indicted war criminal.”

The Sierra Leone tribunal was created by an agreement between the United Nations and Sierra Leone to try serious violations committed since November 1996, when rebels signed a peace accord that failed to end the war.

Ultimately, it took military intervention by former colonial ruler Britain, neighbouring West African country Guinea, and the world’s largest UM peace force to crush Sierra Leone’s rebels.

Sierra Leone’s government officially declared the war over in January 2002.

American and British prosecutors have taken top roles in the UN-Sierra Leone court.

Liberia’s two rebel groups are fighting ever more aggressively to take Monrovia, the capital, and oust Taylor who is estimated to have control of only about 40% of the country.

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