With Liberia about to inaugurate a new president, the State Department called Friday on Nigeria to send former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor to Sierra Leone to stand trial on war crimes charges. Calling Taylor a "bogeyman," the State Department's top African affairs official, Jendayi Frazer, said she is confident that Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo "will do the right thing at the right time," concerning Taylor.
"We're in consultations with him. Certainly the United States thinks that now is the right time," she said. Taylor is under indictment by a U.N. war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone for the assistance he provided to rebels during the country's civil war. Sierra Leone is Liberia's neighbor to the northwest. To facilitate an end to Liberia's civil war, Obasanjo permitted Taylor to resettle in Nigeria. Obasanjo said last fall he believes that Taylor should be turned over to the Sierra Leone Court.
Liberian President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will be sworn in on Monday, with First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in attendance. Taylor and his rebel allies triggered a civil war in 1989 in Liberia. He was elected president in 1997 but violence persisted until he was forced from office in 2003. The country was in ruins on his departure.
The United States has provided $840 million (Ђ697.7 million) in assistance to Liberia over the past year, most of it to support U.N. peacekeepers. Taylor's fate may be at a turning point. Nigeria has said it won't hand him over to the Sierra Leone tribunal unless it receives such a demand by a democratically-elected leader.
Johnson-Sirleaf has not made clear what she thinks Obasanjo should do with Taylor. Despite concerns about possible meddling by Taylor in internal Liberian politics, Frazer said he has become irrelevant, calling his influence "extremely limited if not nil." Taylor, she said, "has not hindered progress toward a democratic transition." Mrs. Bush also will visit Ghana and Nigeria as part of her tour. Rice, who will travel separately, will visit only Liberia, departing Washington Sunday evening and returning Monday night. Frazer will travel to the border region between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the coming days, accompanied by retired Marine Gen. Carlton Fulford.
Tensions between the two countries have been running high as a result of a continuing border dispute. Frazer did not make clear the extent to which she and Fulford will confer with Ethiopian and Eritrean officials, reports the AP. N.U.