March 28, 2006

Wanted Liberian ex-president disappears: Nigeria

By Felix Onuah

ABUJA (Reuters) - Former Liberian president Charles Taylor,
wanted for war crimes by a court in Sierra Leone, has
disappeared from his residence in southeastern Nigeria, the
presidency said on Tuesday.

Taylor disappeared on Monday night, two days after Nigeria
said Liberia was free to take him into its custody. Nigeria and
Liberia were at odds about where he should go and confusion has
reigned about his whereabouts since the Nigerian announcement.

Taylor had lived in Nigeria since 2003, when he stepped
down as president as part of a deal to end Liberia's 14-year
civil war that spilled over into nearby countries.

"President Olusegun Obasanjo has approved the constitution
of a panel of enquiry to look into the circumstances of the
disappearance ... of Mr Charles Taylor ... from his residence
in Calabar," the presidency said in a statement.

Taylor's spokesman in Nigeria said he could not comment
immediately. He had said on Monday afternoon that Taylor was in
his Calabar villa.

Lobby group Human Rights Watch, which had urged Nigeria to
increase security around Taylor to prevent his escape, blamed
Nigeria for his disappearance.

"This is a serious indictment of Nigeria's commitment to
peace and security in Liberia, to seeing justice done for
victims of the violence in Sierra Leone and to the fight
against impunity throughout Africa," Corinne Dufka, head of the
group's West Africa office, told Reuters.

Taylor stands accused of supporting Sierra Leone rebels
notorious for hacking off the limbs of civilians, in exchange
for diamonds to finance the Liberian conflict.

The two conflicts claimed an estimated 300,000 lives,
spawned a generation of child soldiers and destroyed the
infrastructure of both countries.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf asked Nigeria
earlier this month to hand over Taylor to stand trial in Sierra

But Nigeria replied that Liberia was free to take him into
its custody. It gave no details of when and how the transfer
was supposed to take place.

The prosecutor of the Sierra Leone court had called for
Taylor's arrest. Nigeria did not respond.

Security was beefed up around Taylor's Calabar residence on
Tuesday. A truck-load of riot police was deployed to the
riverside villa, and a dozen armed guards were visible at the

The Nigerian statement said the panel of enquiry would
investigate whether Taylor had escaped or been abducted, and
recommend sanctions against those responsible.

Obasanjo ordered the arrest of all security staff who had
been attached to Taylor, a separate statement said.

(Additional reporting by Tom Ashby in Lagos, Ani Akpan in
Calabar, Pascal Fletcher in Dakar)