Parliament rejects petition for Taylor to be tried in Sierra Leone

Liberia's transitional parliament has rejected a petition from human rights groups to pressurise the Nigerian government into handing over former leader Charles Taylor to face war crimes charges in neighbouring Sierra Leone, minutes published on Wednesday showed.

The nominated assembly is dominated by representatives of Taylor's former government and the two rebel movements that opposed it before last year's peace settlement.

All three factions have been accused by human rights groups of committing atrocities during the 14-year civil war in Liberia.

Taylor fled to Nigeria last August when he stepped down from power after rebel attacks on the capital Monrovia and mounting international pressure, led by the United States.

Two months earlier he had been indicted on 17 counts by a U.N.-backed Special Court in Freetown for arming and backing the rebels in Sierra Leone's 1991-2001 civil war.

"Taylor went into exile in Nigeria as part of an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) arrangement to have peace restored to Liberia and this national transitional legislative assembly would not do otherwise," said the parliamentary minutes from Tuesday's meeting.

"Allowing Taylor to face the Court in Freetown, Sierra Leone will hamper the peace process," the parliamentarians added, unanimously rejecting a petition submitted by eighty human rights and pro-democracy groups.

Liberia's 76-member parliament is made up of the rebel factions that launched insurgencies against Taylor's regime, representatives from his former government, political parties, civil society organizations and citizens from all of the country's 15 counties.

The petitioners wanted parliament to persuade Gyude Bryant, the head of Liberia's power-sharing government, to put pressure on Nigeria to send Taylor to Freetown for trial.

However, the move was never likely to succeed. In April, Bryant had already declared that Taylor's presence in Nigeria was part of Liberia's peace process and no request would be made to move him.

Prosecutors at the Special Court in Sierra Leone have said they remain hopeful Taylor will be brought to trial.

On Monday, chief prosecutor David Crane, opening the case against leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) which Taylor is accused of backing, launched a thinly-veiled attack on the international community for failing to bring the former Liberian leader to the Freetown court.

"Charles Taylor would be sitting next to these accused war criminals today had he been turned over to this tribunal for a fair trial," the American lawyer who used to work for the Pentagon, said in his opening statement at the trial of three former military commanders of the RUF.