March 29, 2006

Nigeria deports fugitive ex-Liberian warlord Taylor

By Ibrahim Mshelizza

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria captured fugitive
former Liberian President Charles Taylor on the border with
Cameroon on Wednesday and deported him to Liberia, easing its
embarrassment at his escape earlier in the week.

The dramatic arrest and deportation came hours before
President Olusegun Obasanjo was due to meet U.S. President
George W. Bush, who has been pushing for Taylor to face war
crimes charges in a special U.N.-backed court for years.

"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,"
Nigerian Information Minister Frank Nweke said in a statement.

Journalists saw Taylor, dressed in a white safari suit and
surrounded by about 20 soldiers, walk onto the tarmac at
Maiduguri airport, in Nigeria's far northeast, and board a
Nigerian presidential jet.

"We have instructions to transport him directly to
Monrovia," a security official at the airport said, asking not
to be named.

U.N. peacekeepers at Monrovia's Roberts International
Airport prepared to arrest him and send him for trial at the
court in Sierra Leone.

The 58-year-old former warlord was seized at dawn at the
border more than 1,500 km (930 miles) from Calabar, where he
had been living in exile since 2003 until his disappearance on
Monday night.

Taylor was traveling 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.

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.


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

Nigeria had resisted sending Taylor 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.

Taylor's disappearance from his residence on Monday caused
an international outcry. Some U.S. congressmen urged Bush to
cancel Wednesday's 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.

(Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Felix Onuah in
Abuja, Tom Ashby in Lagos)