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Nigeria would shield Taylor from trial

A Liberian soldier holds back a crowd welcoming the U.S. assessment group to an airfield Wednesday.
A Liberian soldier holds back a crowd welcoming the U.S. assessment group to an airfield Wednesday.

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MAPUTO, Mozambique (CNN) -- Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said Wednesday he would shield an exiled Charles Taylor of Liberia from war crimes charges in Sierra Leone -- but only if Taylor stays out of Liberian politics.

Taylor accepted Obasanjo's offer of asylum Sunday, but until the Nigerian president's comments on CNN International "Q&A" program Wednesday at the African Union Summit in Mozambique, the details of the offer had not be disclosed.

Just two days before meeting with President Bush, who has called for Taylor to step aside to end three years of civil war, Obasanjo said he understands Taylor is willing to accept exile only if he is not turned over to face trial in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile in New York, a United Nations delegation that has just returned from West Africa urged the Security Council Wednesday to send an international military force to Liberia as rapidly as possible.

British U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, who led the delegation, described Liberia as "a mess." He said a delay would risk further breakdowns of an existing cease-fire agreement between Taylor's government and rebel factions.

"We must be prepared to move quickly," Greenstock told reporters. He described the country's situation as "one of the worst ... in the world today of conflict."

Liberia's economy is in disarray and the infrastructure is in ruins. Thousands have died and illness runs rampant. Much of the population of 3.3 million is homeless and starving.

For now, key decisions on troops will be made in capitals in West Africa and in Washington. If a deployment is decided upon, the full U.N. Security Council would then likely meet to formally approve it.

Conditions of exile

Obasanjo said among the conditions for Taylor to receive asylum are "that he will not participate in the politics of his country from Nigeria, and will remain quiet, and remain alive in Nigeria for as long as God wants him to be alive."

Asked if he would turn Taylor over for trial, Obasanjo said, "No I will not. That is made clear. ... We have a condition precedent before we take action, and international law and [the] international community understand conditions."

Obasanjo's comments came a day after Taylor said he intended to remain involved with Liberian politics even after he leaves the country.

"I see myself as contributing significantly to what happens hereafter," Taylor told CNN.

Taylor, who won Liberia's presidency in 1997 after his rebel faction emerged as the dominant force following seven years of civil war in which an estimated 200,000 people died, even said he would like to return to Liberia at some point as an "elder statesman." (Full story)

Obasanjo said Taylor would be "impressed in Nigeria" as "a free man to choose where else he goes. But he cannot stay in Nigeria playing politics."

Obasanjo was asked if he thought Taylor should face war crimes charges. "If there is a reason for him to face war crimes in his country, I believe, yes, he should face it," he said. "If he has gone to fight war in another country, where he should face war crimes, I believe he should."

A U.N.-backed special court in Sierra Leone indicted Taylor on war crimes charges in June, accusing him of arming and training rebels in exchange for diamonds during the country's 10-year civil war that according to the U.S. government left 50,000 people dead. Taylor denies the charges.

The United Nations and humanitarian groups say Taylor-backed rebel fighters throughout the region killed and tortured civilians and abducted people, including children, forcing them to fight.

A special prosecutor with the special court said offering Taylor asylum from the war crimes charges would violate international law.

Peacekeeping discussions

Taylor has said he would not resign until a peacekeeping force is established.

Bush is studying the issue to determine whether to send U.S. troops. A 10-man U.S. military team arrived Wednesday in Accra, Ghana, to meet with representatives of the Economic Community of West African States, which is brokering talks aimed at bringing peace to Liberia.

ECOWAS has indicated it may send up to 1,000 peacekeepers to Liberia. U.S. military officials familiar with the talks told CNN the United States might assist ECOWAS by providing transportation, logistics or communications support for their troops.

Or, if Bush decides to deploy U.S. peacekeeping troops, the team in Ghana would provide information on how U.S. and African forces could cooperate, these officials said.

A U.S. team of military civil affairs experts has been Liberia since Monday to assess humanitarian and peacekeeping needs. (Full story)

The U.N. report filed by the Greenstock traveling delegation also recommends the Security Council make clear that it will not condone any attempts to seize power by force.

Even after the current cease-fire went into effect in June, two rebel factions tried to claim power by ousting Taylor in bloody raids on Monrovia, the capital.

The rebellion began in 2000 when Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy revolted against Taylor. The rebel group and its allies hold 60 percent of the country. The cease-fire seems to have held in recent days.


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