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UK willing to jail Charles Taylor

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Charles Taylor, pictured in 1999, faces war crimes charges.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain has promised to hold Liberia's Charles Taylor in jail if he is convicted of war crimes, paving the way for the West African country's former president to be tried in the Netherlands.

Taylor will be the first African head of state in history to face war crimes charges.

"I was delighted to be able to respond positively to the request of the United Nations secretary general that, should he be convicted, Charles Taylor serve his sentence in the UK," said British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett in a statement on Thursday.

Beckett acknowledged that Taylor's presence in Sierra Leone, where he is prison, "remains a threat to peace in that region." Taylor's serving his sentence in Britain would be subject to parliament passing the necessary legislation, she said.

Officials at The Hague said with Beckett's announcement, all conditions had been met to allow Taylor to stand trial in the Netherlands.

Taylor is accused of fueling a bloody civil war in Sierra Leone that led to widespread murder, rape and mutilation. In April, appearing before a United Nations-backed tribunal in Sierra Leone, he pleaded not guilty to 11 war crimes charges.

Taylor's attorneys said at the time he wanted the war crimes tribunal to take place in Sierra Leone. He previously had expressed a preference for The Hague, but his attorney said the trial would be easier to stage in Sierra Leone because witnesses are there, and that he wants his family close by for moral support.

Charges against Taylor include crimes against humanity, terrorizing a civilian population, unlawful killing, murder, mutilation and sexual slavery, among others.

They involve the civil war that devastated much of Sierra Leone. The war, which involves riches of the diamond trade, was fought largely by teenagers who were forced to kill, given addictive drugs to provoke violent behavior and often instructed to rape and plunder.

Taylor was president of Liberia -- where he is also blamed for fueling a lengthy civil war -- until 2003, when he was forced from office under heavy international pressure, much of it from the United States.

He lived in exile in Nigeria until that nation, earlier this year, was persuaded by political pressure to hand him over for the tribunal. He was caught attempting to cross into Chad and arrested by border guards.

A trial date has not been set, pending decisions on its location.

Beckett said Britain would not be required to let Taylor stay in the country if he were acquitted and he would likely leave, or be removed, after serving any sentence.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said last month that she hoped a European country would step forward and offer to hold Taylor in jail.

"We just think a little bit of distance gives us a little more comfort," she said, according to Reuters.

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