/ 12 March 2006

Liberia denies extradition request for Taylor

A spokesperson for Liberia’s government on Saturday denied the president issued an extradition request for exiled ex-warlord Charles Taylor.

Taylor’s wife, Jewel, said her husband received a copy of a letter on Friday purportedly from Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf asking Nigerian head of state Olusegun Obasanjo to extradite Taylor to face trial at a war-crimes tribunal in neighbouring Sierra Leone, where he is wanted for his role in helping fuel that country’s civil war.

Liberia’s Information Minister, Johnny McClain, denied the claim.

”Neither this government nor Mrs [Johnson-]Sirleaf has presented a letter to President Obasanjo on the issue of Taylor,” McClain told reporters in Monrovia.

Taylor has lived in exile in the southern Nigerian city of Calabar since being forced from power under a peace deal brokered in 2003 that ended a rebel assault on the capital, Monrovia. His wife, Jewel, is now a senator in Liberia’s post-war government.

Both Nigeria and Liberia have been under heavy international pressure to hand over Taylor to the court, something Nigeria has repeatedly refused to do.

Speculation over Taylor’s fate has been rife since Johnson-Sirleaf and Obasanjo last week held their first meeting since Johnson-Sirleaf took office in January. Days earlier, Obasanjo met personally with Taylor.

Officials from both nations had said Taylor’s fate was not discussed, but McClain acknowledged for the first time on Saturday that Taylor’s future had been discussed during their meeting.

”Both presidents agreed that further consultations must be held with the chairman of Ecowas [the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States] and the African Union to find a solution that will be acceptable to the international community,” McClain said.

Taylor plunged Liberia into years of devastating civil war in 1989, when he led a small rebel band that invaded from neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire. During a several-year lull in fighting, he was elected president in 1997. — Sapa-AP