- Former Liberian Dictator, Charles Taylor, is missing from his luxury villa in the Nigerian city of Calabar, where he was equipped with a car with diplomatic plates and his proper security guards. The disappearance is embarrassing to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is blamed of "obstructing justice" by the Liberian press and has ordered the "immediate arrest of all security personnel" detailed to Mr Taylor.
Only yesterday, the escape of Mr Taylor seemed impossible, Nigerian authorities and respected media as the British broadcaster 'BBC' assured. The former Liberian Dictator - who was given a Nigerian exile to step down from his 1997-2003 presidency to allow for a UN administration of the war-ravaged country - was under tight security control, these sources held.
Today - or even yesterday - the "impossible" happened. President Obasanjo on Saturday finally had agreed to hand over the ex-President to the recently elected Liberian government, which planned to send the indicted war criminal directly to a UN-supported war crimes court in neighbouring Sierra Leone. However, President Obasanjo left all responsibilities with the Liberian government, not even bothering to increase security at Mr Taylor's villa in Calabar.
Following Nigerian media reports that Mr Taylor was not to be found at his exile home in Calabar, the Nigerian presidency today indirectly confirmed that the Liberian had escaped. While the presidency this afternoon officially only responded to "allegations" of an escape by the local press, President Obasanjo nevertheless ordered the "immediate arrest of all security personnel" detailed to Mr Taylor.
The arrests of Mr Taylor's security personnel already have been effectuated, but the Liberian ex-President is not among those detained. While the Nigerian presidency today stated its "shock" at Mr Taylor's escape, government further ordered an investigation into the matter.
The Liberian ex-Dictator so far has left no tracks on his hiding. Speculations about his whereabouts are however already ample. The AP news agency today reports that his followers had started leaving Calabar individually several days ago, indicating that the escape was thoroughly planned. The 'BBC News' website adds that Mr Taylor's spiritual advisor says the ex-war lord has already returned to "the Liberian bush, from where he first launched his rebellion."
The escape of Mr Taylor has been registered with shock around the world. The 'Liberian Times' accused President Obasanjo of "obstructing justice" as Nigeria obviously had not done enough to prevent him from escaping and the Nigerian leader has been unwilling to hand Mr Taylor over directly to the Sierra Leone court, as urged by the UN. "President Obasanjo does not allow the mandate of the Special Court to be executed," the Liberian newspaper noted.
The special court in Sierra Leone - which indicted Mr Taylor on 17 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity already in 2003 - today was saddened. "Today marks a step back on the road to accountability and justice. Charles Taylor is now an international fugitive," said Chief Prosecutor Desmond de Silva in a statement. "Taylor is a threat to the peace and security of West Africa. His disappearance now from under the eye of a regional superpower only heightens that threat and puts the whole region on the highest alert," Mr de Silva added.
International human rights groups were equally shocked. Kolawole Olaniyan of Amnesty International in a statement today said that "any failure by the Nigerian or any other government to ensure that Charles Taylor is successfully extradited to Liberia or surrendered to the Special Court is a failure to fulfil obligations under international law and an obstruction of justice."
"It is not enough for the Nigerian government to initiate an investigation. We need an international commission of inquiry that will report directly to the UN Secretary-General and make its findings public," added Mr Olaniyan. "Allowing Charles Taylor to escape trial would be a human rights scandal and a slap in the face for the thousands of victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murders, amputations, rapes, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers that took place during the conflict in Sierra Leone."
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