Taylor to face war crimes charges
Ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor, pictured in 1999, is wanted on war crimes charges in Sierra Leone.
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LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) -- Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, captured while trying to flee his home-in-exile in Nigeria, has arrived in Sierra Leone, where he was taken into custody on war-crimes charges and will face court.
Prosecutor Desmond de Silva announced the arrival of Charles Taylor into the custody of the court in Freetown.
"Today is a momentous occasion and an important day for international justice, the international community and, above all, the people of Sierra Leone," said de Silva in a written statement.
"His presence in the custody of the Special Court sends out the clear message that no matter how rich, powerful or feared people may be -- the law is above them."
His assistant said Taylor's first court appearance could come this week; a judge is to be appointed to the case Thursday morning.
The United Nations confirmed it had transported Taylor to Sierra Leone from his native Liberia, where he had been flown from Nigeria.
Taylor vanished Monday night from the Nigerian villa where he had been living since 2003, prompting an international outcry. He was taken into custody by border guards in northern Nigeria as he tried to cross into Chad, said national police spokesman Haz Iwendi.
"Our security teams moved fast," said Nigerian government spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode. "We looked for Charles Taylor, we apprehended Charles Taylor when he was intending to leave the country, and we are in the process of repatriating Charles Taylor back to Liberia. ... I suppose there is a good deal of relief everywhere."
The capture shows that Nigeria is living up to its responsibilities, he added.
A senior Nigerian government official told CNN Wednesday that U.N. troops would take charge of Taylor in Liberia.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered an investigation into how Taylor was able to elude his security detail, and had the guards arrested. The probe should be finished in about two weeks, Fani-Kayode told CNN.
In a news conference before his meeting with Bush, Obasanjo said he viewed Taylor's Monday night disappearance with "utter dismay" but felt "vindicated" now that he'd been captured.
"Those who said that (Nigeria may have helped Taylor escape) are wrong and should apologize," he said. "Mr. Taylor is neither a friend of the president of Nigeria nor that of its people."
Obasanjo said Taylor and his wife were captured in a village on Nigeria's border with Chad early Wednesday morning.
Bush, appearing with Obasanjo after the pair's meeting, said Taylor's quick capture was "a signal of your (Obasanjo's) desire to have peace in your neighborhood."
The 58-year-old former Liberian leader had been living in a villa in Calabar since August 2003 as a guest of the Nigerian government. Nigeria granted asylum to Taylor under an agreement that helped end Liberia's 14-year civil war. He was not held under house arrest.
"I think it's a warning to all would-be warlords that they will be held to account, and that impunity will not be allowed to stand," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told CNN's Richard Roth. "Those days are gone, and they really should think before they engage in any such adventure."
Taylor was Liberia's president from 1997 until he was forced from office in 2003. A court in neighboring Sierra Leone indicted him on 17 counts of alleged war crimes after accusing him of supporting rebels in that country who were committing atrocities against civilians.
The former warlord has said he is willing to go before a war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands, but did not want to be tried in Sierra Leone.
A court in neighboring Sierra Leone indicted him on 17 counts of alleged war crimes after accusing him of supporting rebels in that country who were committing atrocities against civilians.
As many as 200,000 people were killed in the war waged by Sierra Leone's vicious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels from 1991 until peace was officially declared in January 2002.
According to Amnesty International, Sierra Leone's civil war "was characterized by some of the worst abuses known: widespread deliberate and arbitrary killings of civilians, torture, including rape and deliberate amputation of limbs, and abduction and forced recruitment of large numbers of people, including children."
CNN's Jeff Koinange and Elise Labott contributed to this report.
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