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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 March 2006, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
Charles Taylor caught in Nigeria
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor
Police say Mr Taylor was stopped by customs officers
Exiled former Liberian president and war crimes suspect Charles Taylor is being removed from Nigeria after being caught trying to escape custody.

A jet has taken off from Nigeria and is flying him to Liberia following an order from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to repatriate him.

He is then due to be transferred to the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone.

He went missing on Monday from his southern Nigerian villa after Nigeria said Liberia was free to detain him.

Mr Taylor went into exile in 2003 in a deal ending Liberia's civil war.

He faces 17 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over his alleged role in the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone where he is accused of backing rebels.

Go to the court, [Mr Taylor,] and defend yourself as a man
Momolu, Monrovia

Mr Taylor is accused of selling diamonds and buying weapons for the Revolutionary United Front rebels

The rebels were notorious for hacking off the hands and legs of civilians during their decade-long war.

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

The BBC's Mark Doyle reports that it is likely United Nations peacekeepers in Liberia will arrest Mr Taylor immediately and then send him to the tribunal in Sierra Leone.

If and when he arrives, a cell is waiting for him, our correspondent adds.

Border check

The departure of the jet from Nigeria was confirmed by a police source and officials, as well as eyewitnesses.

Mr Taylor was detained earlier by security forces in the town of Gamboru-Ngala, close to the Cameroon border in the north-eastern Nigerian state of Borno.

The former Liberian leader had arrived at the frontier in a Range Rover jeep with diplomatic corps number plates, a trader working at the Gamboru-Ngala border post told AFP news agency.

"He was wearing a white flowing robe," said Babagana Alhaji Kata.

"He passed through immigration but when he reached customs they were suspicious and they insisted on searching the jeep, where they found a large amount of US dollars.

"After a further search they discovered he was Charles Taylor."

Nigeria has arrested Mr Taylor's Nigerian guards and has launched an investigation.

Escape scare

President Obasanjo ordered Mr Taylor to be sent back to Liberia immediately to be placed in custody there, Information Minister Frank Nweke told reporters.

1997: Elected Liberian president after leading rebellion
1991-2002: Alleged role in Sierra Leone's civil war
June 2003: Arrest warrant issued by Sierra Leone tribunal
August 2003: Begins exile in Nigeria after civil war at home
March 2006: Detained by Nigeria while fleeing

News of his detention came an hour before Mr Obasanjo was due to leave for a visit to the US where he is to meet President George W Bush.

Mr Bush had been facing calls to cancel the meeting in protest at Nigeria's failure to place Mr Taylor in custody after approving his surrender to Liberia at the weekend.

The Nigerian president had been "very shocked" by Mr Taylor's disappearance from his villa in Calabar, Mr Nweke told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Desmond de Silva, chief prosecutor of the war crimes court in Sierra Leone, had warned Mr Taylor could use his vast wealth and contacts to organise his escape.

He described Mr Taylor as one of the three most important wanted war crimes suspects in the world.

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