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Nigeria arrests fugitive ex-Liberian warlord Taylor

Written by: Staff
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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, Mar 29: Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, on the run from war crimes charges, was arrested today in northern Nigeria at the border with Cameroon, police said.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, currently on a visit to Washington which has been pressing for the former warlord to stand trial, ordered that he be immediately repatriated to Liberia, Information Minister Frank Nweke said.

The dramatic dawn arrest at a remote border crossing in northeastern Borno state will go some way to ease Nigeria's embarrassment over his escape from asylum in southeastern Nigeria as Obasanjo prepares to meet President George W. Bush later today.

''He was arrested in Borno state, at the Cameroon border, in the early hours of this morning,'' said police spokesman Haz Iwendi.

Officials in Borno said the 58-year-old former warlord was detained at the Gamboru-Ngala border crossing, an outpost in the arid northeast more than 1,500 km from Calabar, where Taylor had been living since 2003.

He was travelling in a jeep with diplomatic plates with a woman and boy, and a large amount of money in dollars in a trunk, local officials said.

He was escorted under heavy security to a military barracks in the Borno state capital Maiduguri.

''President Obasanjo has ordered the immediate repatriation of Charles Taylor to Liberia ... to help the government of Liberia which had requested custody of the former president,'' Nweke said in a statement.

The United States has been pressing for Taylor to stand trial for war crimes in the special UN-backed court in Sierra Leone. Nigeria and Liberia have been at odds over how to handle the case since Liberia's newly-elected president asked for him to be handed over in early March.

CHARGES

Taylor went into exile as part of a deal to end 14 years of civil war in Liberia that spilled over into nearby states. In Sierra Leone, he is accused of supporting rebels notorious for hacking off the limbs of civilians in exchange for diamonds to finance the Liberian conflict. An estimated 300,000 died in the wars that spawned a generation of child soldiers.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, under intense pressure from Washington, asked Nigeria in early March to hand Taylor back to the country he ruled for six years.

She then modified the request last week, saying she wanted Taylor to be sent direct to Sierra Leone to stand trial. Nigeria refused to send him to Sierra Leone, arguing that the terms of his asylum stated that he could only be returned to Liberia.

Some fear that Taylor's presence in Liberia could spark renewed bloodshed in the region as it recovers from the devastating conflict.

United Nations forces in Liberia are under orders to arrest Taylor and send him to the Sierra Leone court, whose prosecutor welcomed Taylor's arrest.

''I am delighted that the Nigerian authorities have secured Taylor clearly in the course of fleeing because on the loose he presented a very grave danger to the security of the region,'' prosecutor Desmond de Silva told Reuters.

Taylor's disappearance from his residence on Monday caused an international outcry. Some US congressmen urged President George W. Bush to cancel the meeting with Obasanjo.

Nweke's statement said the meeting was going ahead and the two presidents would discuss the matter of Taylor's disappearance from Calabar.

Nweke said Obasanjo and Bush would also discuss bilateral issues and matters of security, conflict resolution and developments in Africa. The United States has major oil interests in Nigeria, its fifth biggest supplier of crude.

REUTERS

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