Taylor arrives in Netherlands for war crimes trial
By Christo Johnson
AMSTERDAM/FREETOWN (Reuters) – Former Liberian president
Charles Taylor arrived in the Netherlands on Tuesday to face
trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague,
airport officials said.
“He arrived in Rotterdam and was picked up by officials
from the Foreign Ministry,” an airport official said. Taylor
will be held at the ICC’s Scheveningen detention unit.
He faces 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against
humanity for backing Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front
rebels, whose drugged child soldiers killed, mutilated and
raped civilians during the West African country’s 1990s civil
Taylor was flown in a U.N. helicopter to the country’s main
airport at Lungi from the compound of the U.N.-backed Special
Court for Sierra Leone, which has charged him with war crimes
and will conduct his trial in The Hague.
“I talked to Mr Taylor briefly. We didn’t discuss his case,
we joked around a little bit and I wished him a safe journey,”
court spokesman Peter Andersen said after Taylor’s departure.
Asked about the prisoner’s mood, he said: “It’s difficult
to tell — he looked very serious.”
The Freetown-based court said its registrar, security chief
and medical officer had accompanied Taylor on the flight.
“This means that the focus can now be on the trial against
Taylor, who is accused of serious war crimes,” Dutch Foreign
Minister Ben Bot said in a statement.
“This is a signal from the international community that
exemption from punishment will not be tolerated.”
A U.N. spokeswoman said U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan
called on all involved to support the Special Court in its work
by contributing to its budget and ensuring evidence and
witnesses were made available.
Sierra Leone’s Vice-President Solomon Berewa welcomed the
news. “We are now satisfied that he is going to be tried in a
well secured area by the Netherlands while we in Sierra Leone
and the Mano River Union states will continue to consolidate
our peace,” he told Reuters.
The Mano River Union groups Sierra Leone, Liberia and
Guinea, which were all dragged into a spiral of violence in the
14 years after Taylor began Liberia’s civil war in 1989.
“All I think Sierra Leoneans were interested in was to see
Taylor arrested and charged, which has been done,” Berewa
Taylor’s half-brother Adolphus Taylor was disappointed.
“We are downhearted. They had told us that Mr Taylor will
be transferred on Wednesday but instead they transferred him
today. We just don’t know what’s happening. We do not know
whether he will get a fair trial,” he told Reuters in Monrovia.
Years of war in Liberia finally came to an end after Taylor
agreed to go into exile in Nigeria in 2003. Caught trying to
leave Nigeria earlier this year as pressure mounted for him to
be tried, he was transferred to the Special Court and charged.
Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said of his move
to The Hague on Tuesday: “We hope that it will help us put the
past behind us. We are looking forward. We are concentrating on
the 3 million Liberians who need our help.”
The Netherlands agreed to host the trial after Britain
promised last week to hold Taylor if he was sentenced to jail.
Court spokesman Anderson said defense and prosecution
lawyers would still hold a pre-trial meeting already organized
for Wednesday in Freetown. He could not say when Taylor would
appear in court in The Hague.
(Additional reporting by Nicola Leske in Amsterdam and
Alphonso Toweh in Bo Waterside, Liberia)