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Last Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Taylor trial to be out of Africa
By Joseph Winter
BBC News website

Charles Taylor
Taylor still retains popularity in his home country

The UN Security Council has passed a resolution paving the way for the trial of Liberia's former President Charles Taylor to be switched from the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, to the Dutch city of The Hague.

Mr Taylor is finally in a detention centre in Sierra Leone, three years after a warrant for his arrest was first issued by a UN-backed war crimes court.

Human rights groups accuse Mr Taylor of being responsible for wars and instability across West Africa in the 1990s.

They say he retains the ability to mobilise a fighting force of armed young men, as he has in the past, which could threaten the new-found peace in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

His presence in Freetown could prove a magnet for such a guerrilla army, which would have little chance of reaching The Hague.

If convicted on any of the 11 charges he faces, the UK has agreed that he could serve his sentence in a British prison.

The suggestion that Mr Taylor be tried in The Hague, though still under the jurisdiction of the Sierra Leone court, was first mentioned by the court's chief prosecutor Desmond de Silva to the BBC News website last year.

Sierra Leone Justice Minister Frederick Carew
From the evidence we have, he used our diamonds to fuel the war and cause untold hardship to our nation
Frederick Carew
Sierra Leone justice minister
"Mr Taylor undoubtedly still controls forces which could destabilise the region," said the British lawyer.

"A number of countries - both Western and African - take the view that perhaps the interests of peace and security could best be served by a trial outside the region."

A trial in The Hague might also placate the fears of some Liberians who fear Mr Taylor would not receive a fair trial in Freetown, even if the judges were international.

However, Mr Taylor has objected, saying his family would not be able to travel so far to support him in court.

Controlling forces

The Sierra Leonean Revolutionary United Front rebel group, which Mr Taylor is accused of arming in exchange for diamonds, was guilty of horrendous atrocities: murder, rape and the systematic mutilation of tens of thousands of civilians by hacking off their feet or hands with machetes and axes.

Desmond de Silva
Desmond De Silva says Mr Taylor is one of the world's worst war criminals
Lamin Jusu-Jarka, chairman of Sierra Leone's War Affected Amputee Association, had both his arms hacked off during the conflict.

He says he would be happy as long as Mr Taylor faces justice, wherever that may be.

"That man is a great enemy to our country. If people see him here, they will want to kill him," said Freetown taxi-driver Gibrilla.

Sierra Leonean Justice Minister Frederick Carew is more diplomatic, but just as keen to see Mr Taylor face justice.

"From the evidence we have, he used our diamonds to fuel the war and cause untold hardship to our nation," he said.

And yet he retains considerable popularity in his home country.

James Bleetan, editor of the New Standard newspaper, says if Mr Taylor had contested last year's elections in Liberia, he would have won easily - as he did in the previous elections in 1997.


None of the 22 candidates to replace Mr Taylor was eager to mention him during the campaign, not wanting to commit themselves either way for fear of alienating either the international community or potential voters.

Supporters of Roland Massaquoi
Mr Taylor's former ruling party retains some support
Even the leader of what was once Mr Taylor's ruling National Patriotic Party, Roland Massaquoi, tried to keep quiet on the issue.

But his party members showed their true feelings during their rally, chanting: "Our pappy, dat dey carry, dey go bring back" - Liberian English for "Our leader, who they took away, will be brought back".

But seeing him arrested as soon as he set foot on Liberia soil and sent off to Sierra Leone in handcuffs is not what they had in mind.

After taking office in January, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said reconstruction and development were her priority, not Mr Taylor.

Yet only two months later, it emerged that she had formally asked Nigeria, where Mr Taylor had gone into exile, to extradite him.

Some suspect that she came under strong pressure from the international community, particularly the US, to answer the Taylor question once and for all.

Turning him over for trial in The Hague seems to be acceptable to all concerned, and allow both Liberia and Sierra Leone to concentrate on the huge task of rebuilding their shattered nations.

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