/ 7 December 2007

Court orders arrest of former Liberian leader

A criminal court has ordered the arrest of Liberia’s ex-president Gyude Bryant on allegations that he embezzled $1,3-million while in office.

Bryant, who led the nation for two years as a transitional president following the end of Liberia’s 14-year civil war, stepped down in 2005 after Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won democratic presidential elections.

Bryant’s government was accused of mishandling the nation’s finances.

A Liberian court issued the arrest order on Thursday after Bryant failed to show up in court twice this week. Bryant, who had been granted bail, now should be held at Monrovia’s central prison until he answers to the charge, according to the court.

Late Thursday, Bryant said that he had heard about the arrest warrant but that it had not yet been served. ”The processes are unjust; there are lots of injustices being done to me,” he said.

The arrest warrant comes days after Bryant fired his legal team, saying: ”I will not dignify the travesty that I am being subjected to, and I certainly will not insist that my lawyers risk their livelihood and the support of their families by continuing to defend me in this case.”

Liberia, a nation of three million, was torn apart by a 1979-2003 civil war. The fighting ended only when ex-president Charles Taylor bowed to international pressure and went into exile. About 250 000 Liberians are believed to have been killed in the fighting.

Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state, has been praised for initiatives to end corruption and cracking down on crime, especially rape, which is still rampant in post-war Liberia.

Taylor, meanwhile, is imprisoned in The Hague, The Netherlands, awaiting trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. — Sapa-AP