By Ibrahim Mshelizza
MAIDUGURI- Nigeria captured fugitive former Liberian President Charles Taylor on the border with Cameroon on Wednesday and deported him to Liberia, easing its embarrassment at his escape earlier in the week.
The dramatic arrest and
deportation came hours before President Olusegun Obasanjo was due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush, who has been pushing for Taylor to face war crimes charges in a special U.N.-backed court for years.
“President Obasanjo has ordered the immediate repatriation of Charles Taylor to Liberia … to help the government of Liberia which had requested custody of the former president,” Nigerian Information Minister Frank Nweke said in a statement.
Journalists saw Taylor, dressed in a white safari suit and surrounded by about 20 soldiers, walk onto the tarmac at Maiduguri airport, in Nigeria’s far northeast, and board a Nigerian presidential jet.
“We have instructions to transport him directly to Monrovia,” a security official at the airport said, asking not to be named.
U.N. peackeepers at Monrovia’s Roberts International Airport prepared to arrest him and send him for trial at the court in Sierra Leone.
The 58-year-old former warlord was seized at dawn at the border more than 1,500 km (930 miles) from Calabar, where he had been living in exile since 2003 until his disappearance on Monday night.
Taylor was travelling in a jeep with diplomatic plates with a woman and boy, and a large amount of money in dollars in a trunk, local officials said.
Nigeria and Liberia have been at odds over how to handle the case since Liberia’s newly-elected president asked for him to be handed over in early March.
Taylor went into exile as part of a deal to end 14 years of civil war in Liberia that spilled over into nearby states.
In Sierra Leone, he is accused of supporting rebels notorious for hacking off the limbs of civilians in exchange for diamonds to finance the Liberian conflict. An estimated 300,000 died in the wars that spawned a generation of child soldiers.
Nigeria had resisted sending Taylor to Sierra Leone, arguing that the terms of his asylum stated that he could only be returned to Liberia.
Some fear that Taylor’s presence in Liberia could spark renewed bloodshed in the region as it recovers from the devastating conflict.
Taylor’s disappearance from his residence on Monday caused an international outcry. Some U.S. congressmen urged Bush to cancel Wednesday’s meeting with Obasanjo.
Nweke’s statement said the meeting was going ahead and the two presidents would discuss the matter of Taylor’s disappearance from Calabar.
Nweke said Obasanjo and Bush would also discuss bilateral issues and matters of security, conflict resolution and developments in Africa. The United States has major oil interests in Nigeria, its fifth biggest supplier of crude. — Reuter