The British government has said former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is in Sierra Leone awaiting trial on charges of war crimes, could serve his prison sentence in the United Kingdom if he is convicted.
Other European countries have refused to host Taylor. Liberia and the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone do not want Taylor tried in West Africa because of security fears.
Taylor triggered 14 years of civil war in Liberia when he launched a rebellion from neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire in December 1989 to unseat President Samuel Doe, who was later killed.
Taylor has also been indicted on eleven counts of war crimes in Sierra Leone whilst he was president of Liberia, including murder, rape and recruitment of child soldiers.
Many Liberians want to leave the war and their former president Taylor in the past.
“This Taylor issue is behind us. All the international community wanted was him to face trial and now that he is in court they should decide what to do with him,” said market woman Mimi Beysllow.
Some Taylor loyalists, however, are making efforts to support him. John Richardson, who served as national security adviser under Taylor, said he and others are trying to raise US $5 million for a defense fund.
“If former president Taylor is represented by a crack defense team he would be a free man since we are convinced that allegations levied against him by the prosecutors cannot be proven if he has a fair trial,” Richardson said.
Taylor was arrested and taken to the Special Court in Freetown after Liberia’s new President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made an official request for is extradition from exile in Nigeria.
British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett was quoted by the British Broadcasting Corp. as saying new legislation would be required to imprison Taylor in the United Kingdom.
The British gesture paves the way for Taylor to be tried in The Hague. The Dutch government agreed to host Taylor’s trial if another country volunteered to imprison him if he was convicted.
Taylor remains imprisoned in Freetown under guard of UN troops from Mongolia. Human rights advocates caution that failing to try Taylor in Freetown could deny Sierra Leoneans a sense of closure.
“There is such a strong belief in Sierra Leone that powerful people are above the law,” Corinne Dufka, West Africa team leader for New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IRIN. “That Sierra Leoneans will not witness his trial I think is unfortunate.”
She adds, however, that HRW believes that security must take precedent and if regional governments and the Special Court do not feel confident of security then the rights group would support moving Taylor’s trial.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Thursday that the decision to transfer Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone sent a "strong message" to other warlords in the region.
Annan added that continued peace in Liberia, in part, depended on maintaining stability in Cote d'Ivoire.