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Sierra Leone says exiled Liberian leader should be handed over

Friday May 27, 2005

Sierra Leone says exiled Liberian leader should be handed over

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone's government has for the first time said ousted Liberian leader Charles Taylor should be tried for war crimes for allegedly backing Sierra Leone rebels in a vicious decade-long insurgency. 

"We have heard that while in exile in Nigeria, he is still straining his tentacles into Liberia,'' Sierra Leone's Vice President Solomon Berewa told reporters in the capital, Freetown. 

"If he has done that, then he forfeits his rights of protection and (is) liable to be surrendered to the Special Court for protection,'' Berewa said. 

The government had until Friday kept silent on the Freetown-based international war crimes tribunal's indictment of Taylor in keeping with its policy of doing nothing that might affect the court's independence. 

The U.N.-backed tribunal is charged with trying those most responsible for abuses committed during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 battle for control of the country's rich diamond fields. Taylor remains the highest-profile suspect indicted by the court, whose officials have repeatedly called on Nigeria to surrender him for trial. 

Berewa's comments were likely to increase pressure on Nigeria to hand over Taylor. Nigeria, though, has maintained that giving him asylum in 2003 was the only way to end civil war in Liberia, and that it will harbor him as long as he refrains from interfering in his homeland's politics. 

Officials at the war crimes court say they have evidence not only that Taylor has continued playing a role in Liberian politics, but was behind a January attempt to assassinate Guinea President Lansana Conte, a longtime Taylor foe. 

On Tuesday, war crime tribunal chief prosecutor David Crane said Taylor received money recently from an al-Qaida operative and is trying to destabilize west Africa.--AP

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