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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006, 18:16 GMT
Nigeria to give up Charles Taylor
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor promised Liberians he would return
Nigeria is to hand over to Liberia its exiled former leader and war crimes suspect, Charles Taylor.

Nigeria's president said Liberia's new government, which had formally sought Mr Taylor's extradition, was free to take him into custody.

Mr Taylor faces war crimes charges over his role in the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

He went into exile in Nigeria in 2003 as part of a deal to end 14 years of civil war in Liberia.

Liberia has indicated it could send him straight to Sierra Leone once Nigeria hands him over.

This is a great day for justice, not only for the victims of Sierra Leone's brutal war
Human Rights Watch

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who took office in January after winning elections late last year, has previously said her priority was to rebuild Liberia, rather than put Mr Taylor on trial.

The 15,000 United Nations peacekeepers in Liberia are under instructions to arrest Mr Taylor and transfer him to the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone if he sets foot on Liberian soil.

'Timing'

The Nigerian statement said: "President Olusegun Obasanjo has today, 25 March, informed President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that the government of Liberia is free to take former President Charles Taylor into custody."

The BBC's Alex Last in Lagos says Mr Obasanjo insisted on asking the advice of other African leaders involved in brokering the Liberian peace agreement in 2003 before making his decision.

TAYLOR TIMELINE
1989: Launches rebellion
1991: RUF rebellion starts in Sierra Leone
1995: Peace deal signed
1997: Elected president
1999: Lurd starts rebellion to oust Taylor
June 2003: Arrest warrant issued
August 2003: Steps down, goes into exile in Nigeria

Charles Taylor's exile was a crucial part of that deal.

Leaders of the African Union and West African regional grouping Ecowas had raised no substantive objection to the move, the Nigerian statement said.

The statement said that Mr Obasanjo's only objections to surrendering Mr Taylor had been to do with "timing and continued peace in Liberia".

It did not say when or how he would be handed over.

Mr Obasanjo had previously refused to send Mr Taylor to Sierra Leone, saying he would only extradite him following a request from an elected Liberian leader.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf visited Nigeria earlier this month and the extradition request was made earlier in March.

"We must recognise that Liberia is greater than any one person, tribe or group of people," she said in Monrovia, following news of the Nigerian announcement.

A spokesman for Mr Taylor said Nigeria's move was in breach of the 2003 deal.

"African leaders cannot afford to renege on that agreement," the spokesman, Sylvester Paasewe, told Reuters news agency.

Human Rights Watch said: "This is a great day for justice, not only for the victims of Sierra Leone's brutal war but also for the fight against impunity which has devastated so many lives in West Africa."

'Immunity'

Tens of thousands of people died in the interlinked conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Charles Taylor's rise and fall

Mr Taylor is accused of selling diamonds and buying weapons for Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels, who were notorious for hacking off the hands and legs of civilians during a 10-year war.

He also started the Liberian civil war in 1989, before being elected president in 1997.

Mr Taylor has been living with his 100-strong entourage in the south-eastern Nigerian city of Calabar since mid-2003.

His supporters have said that he has immunity from prosecution under the peace deal which saw him step down.

But human rights activists accuse him of breaking the terms of that deal by trying to influence Liberian politics.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
A look at the background of Charles Taylor



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