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War crimes suspect Taylor missing

Ex-Liberian leader reportedly disappeared from villa in Nigeria
Ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor, pictured in 1999, is wanted on war crimes charges in Sierra Leone.


Charles Taylor
Sierra Leone

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) -- Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has vanished from the Nigerian villa where he was living in exile, days after Nigeria said Liberian authorities could repatriate the man wanted for war crimes, a Nigerian government spokesman said Tuesday.

The United States was deeply concerned Taylor, 58, might have fled, and was demanding answers from the Nigerian government, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters.

"We have made clear to the government of Nigeria that it has a special responsibility to make sure that Charles Taylor is brought to justice," he said.

"That includes maintaining control over Taylor and working with Liberia and the U.N. to transfer him to the Special Court for Sierra Leone."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also expressed concern.

"The secretary-general calls on all countries in the region not to give refuge to Mr Taylor, but to execute the warrant for his arrest by the Special Court," Annan's spokesman said.

Through a spokesman, Liberia's newly installed President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf urged that Taylor be handed over to her government and promised, in turn, to transfer him to the Special Court.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered an investigation into the disappearance and the arrest of Taylor's security detail, Nigerian government spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode said.

Taylor, who is wanted for war crimes by the U.N.-backed Special Court in Sierra Leone, vanished from the villa Monday night, Fani-Kayode said.

Desmond de Silva, the court's prosecutor, called Taylor "an international fugitive."

"For him now to disappear, on the eve of his transfer, is an affront to justice," de Silva said in a statement on the court's Web site.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the matter was of critical importance.

"I certainly believe that the Nigerian government has a responsibility to transfer Charles Taylor safely through Liberian custody so that he can be brought before the court," she told a Senate hearing Tuesday.

The Nigerian government had said Saturday that Liberian authorities could take Taylor back to Liberia. (Watch how Taylor went from hero to wanted man)

But Nigeria's Fani-Kayode said it was not his country's responsibility to deliver Taylor to the Liberians.

"The onus was on the Liberian government," he said. "He was a guest of ours, and you do not pick up your guests and take them anywhere."

Taylor -- who was Liberia's president from 1997 until he was forced from office in 2003 -- was indicted in 2003 by the court in neighboring Sierra Leone on charges of war crimes related to his support for rebels in that country who were committing widespread atrocities against civilians.

Obasanjo is to meet Wednesday in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush and Taylor's status was to be one of the topics discussed.

Taylor studied in U.S.

Born in 1948, Taylor is the third of 15 children, descendants of freed U.S. slaves who established the Liberian republic in the 19th century.

His father sent him to the United States, where he obtained a degree in economics from Bentley College in Massachusetts.

He became involved in radical Liberian student politics. Influenced by Marxist and Pan-African ideas, he once advocated burning down the Liberian Embassy in Washington.

He earned cash in his spare time working on a production line at a toy factory. He became a teacher and was part of dictator Samuel Doe's government in 1980 before being exiled to the United States.

In the United States, he was jailed for allegedly stealing $900,000 in Liberian government money -- only to escape from a Massachusetts prison, along with four petty criminals, in 1985 after a year in captivity.

In 1989, he returned to West Africa and launched a revolt from the Ivory Coast against Doe, an ethnic Krahn who had taken power in a military coup.

CNN's Jeff Koinange and Richard Roth contributed to this report.

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